Journey to Nowhere

As told by The Woodcarver.

A novel - recounting the many and varied adventures of the Woodcarver and the King - reminiscent of Hector Mallot's "Sans Famille" & Paul Gallico's "Love of the Seven Dolls".

For a synopsis Click here. For illustrations & music click on the chain icons.


He stood in the aircraft's open doorway, hands against the rim, and looked down four kilometres to where the bulbous earth was, its edges curved as if seen through a fish-eye lens. "That will give me 80 seconds before impact," he thought. If your whole life was supposed to pass before your eyes in the last second before death, he would have plenty of time to review the passing parade. He stuck his head a little farther out, felt the wind, and laughed bitterly at a world that looked, from this height, deceitfully benign. But he knew better.

He moved one step back into the fuselage. The others had jumped on the last pass over the drop zone, so he was alone, apart from the pilot up front.

"Steady as she goes," he called, to let the man know he was on course. As if it mattered. Still, do things normally and save the fellow from being traumatised. It would be bad enough, upon landing, to discover the unused parachute on the floor.

So, this was it. From somewhere just outside his body, he watched as his hands moved up and undid the chest strap. Then they slid down with the fluidity of a somnambulist and undid the two heavy thigh buckles. He eased off the shoulder straps and lowered the parachute to the floor.

"Thanks for the ride," he called in his customary way. The pilot nodded on automatic. Then he leapt.


Deadline was approaching and all that could be heard in the vast fluorescent-lit newsroom was the pounding of computer keyboards by the army of journalists. It was the white sound of contained energy, like that of high voltage in a power station.

One man was not plugged into that frenzy of activity. His work station might well have been an island, so detached was he from all that was going on about him. Sigurd Olivier, in his early fourties and wearing a suit, moustache and trim beard, sat at his desk and stared despondently into space. Open in front of him was a package containing the hundreds of pages of a manuscript. His vacant gaze drifted down to the letter in his hand, then he leaned forward and pinned it to a pin board, where it joined a host of other, similar letters interspersed with a few photographs of himself skydiving. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face. He always broke out in a sweat when he had that nightmare.

He was still staring at the board when Rick Struve, the news editor, brandished a sheet of copy in front of his nose.

“We’ve got the makings of a good story here, but all you’ve given me is bare bones. Where’s the flesh!” he snapped. Lowering his voice, he went on. “This is what I’d expect from a cub reporter, not from someone of your experience. Huh?”

Sensing he wasn’t making contact, he followed Sigurd’s gaze to the pin board.

“Another rejection?” he asked with hurried sympathy. “Well, you know what they say? Perseverence pays. There are plenty of publishers out there-”

“No,” Sigurd cut him short. “If I can’t get the message after 39 rejections, well, I must be as thick as two short planks.” He pushed his chair back with his feet and swivelled so he could look Rick in the eye. “The truth is... The truth is they don’t want my masterpiece.” Then with a degree of self-mockery: “And it was meant to be my ticket out of this hell-hole-”

“Hell-hole! You’re working for one of the best newspapers in-”

“Sure. So was Paul. Before he put a bullet through his head. And Joop, before he gassed himself last year. And Wagner, who cannot even recognise his own wife and kid any more he’s cracked up so bad. I’m scared, Rick, scared I might be next. Only bad news is news and you can’t keep digging around in all that shit without getting spattered.”

He got up and crossed to the window, his back to Rick, and muttered, more to himself than to be heard: “There must be another way. There must be.”

Rick laid a hand gently on his shoulder. “Come on. I’ll buy you lunch.”

Sigurd did not respond at first, but kept staring out the window which offered a view of the famous Amsterdam square, Leidseplein. Down there, a few storeys below, was bustle and noise, song and dance. As trams clanged by, a large crowd watched enthusiastically the antics of a unicyclist juggling fire-sticks. His ghetto blaster battled the decibels as a distorted voice sang:

“On Leidseplein we listened well
The juggler he did say
Paradise my friend you’ll find
At a place called Bingil Bay.”

For his finale the artiste tossed his sticks higher than ever in the air, up to the sky, over the moon, and down again, catching them adroitly. Then, feigning imbalance, he teetered in the direction of the prettiest damsel - he had spotted her at the outset - and clung desperately to her neck.


An hour later Rick and Sigurd were sitting on a terrace in the same square, their table littered with dirty plates, coffee cups, wine bottle, one glass on Rick’s side, several glasses of different shape and size on Sigurd’s side. In the background the street performers were still doing their thing. Sigurd, looking rather wild, was holding forth.

“...I am. And not only me. We’re all in chains. Society has created us in its own image. Only, I want a way out. I’m looking for a window in that brick wall where I can climb through-”

“Alice ‘Through the Looking Glass’... ‘The Never-Ending Story’... You’re not the first person to fantasize about a Shangi-la-”

“But that’s just it, don’t you see? I don’t want to fantasize about it. I want to actually do it! Only-” He was close to tears now. “Only, I can’t find that window in the wall.”

“Look, you’ve been under a lot of strain at home. Is Viv still pressing for a divorce?”

Sigurd rocked more than nodded, enveloped in anguish. Rick called for the bill, paid, and they made their way through the crowd. A clown was going through his routine. Dressed in white bunny suit with large red dots, oversized shoes, and painted face, he kept banging his large red nose to make hooting sounds. A row of four girls, aged around ten, with school satchels on their backs, their arms linked, were mischievously mimicking his every move. At first he tried to proceed with his routine, but then realised he could play in on this. His movements became more and more convoluted, with him pausing regularly to allow the girls - if they dared - to double his act. And game they certainly were!

Sigurd slowed, then stopped, his face lighting up as he was drawn into this spontaneous play. Rick stood fidgeting next to him. Sigurd began to work his way through the crowd. He turned once to beckon to Rick to join him, but Rick rolled his eyes to heaven and motioned impatiently for Sigurd to come along now. But Sigurd was moving with the overexcitement of one who has found that window in the wall. Highly irritated, Rick turned on his heel and walked briskly off to the newsroom. Sigurd pressed on till he was in the front row of the crowd, right behind the four girls. He watched them briefly, then with hesitant movements began to mimic them. Very quickly he got into the full swing of things, boldly linked arms with the spectators on either side of him, they linked with their neighbours, till the entire front row was mimicking the clown in unison with the four girls. He kicked up his left leg, the crowd kicked up their left legs. He threw back his head, they threw back their heads. It ended with him falling over backwards, the crowd doing likewise, landing in a heap of abandoned laughter.

Standing in the window of the newsroom watching this, was Rick. At his shoulder stood an older, white-haired man, the editor. Their looks were decidedly sober.

The crowd dispersed as the clown packed up the tools of his trade and a group of Peruvian musicians in colourful hand-woven capes moved in to take up their positions. Sigurd, still excited, moved through the thinning crowd and made for a bench. Just as he had settled himself at one end, another figure plopped down beside him. It was the juggler. He lit a joint, inhaled deeply and with immense satisfaction, then without looking sideways he offered the joint to Sigurd, who hesitated, then took it and puffed.

"Transmission of the light. Or is it lamp?" the juggler told the world at large.

"This?" asked Sigurd, holding up the joint.

"No." He gestured towards the centre of the square. "What happened out there."

"You were great. Thank you-"

The juggler turned dramatically towards Sigurd. "It is I who must thank you. 'The raincloud was full, and was grateful to the earth for receiving its water.'" With that he took the joint from Sigurd. It passed back and forth, back and forth, in silence now. Yet in that silence something was being transmitted.

Time had stopped, and when it started up again the juggler talked of life on the street.

"...Come winter, and I fly off to the Canaries or go Down Under. Australia."

"And you make good money there?"

"In Sydney, Melbourne, yes. They're more receptive than you might think, though it's musicians who are best received. Music, you see, is where the Aussies expose their souls. But there's another reason I go to Australia for the winter. Our winter. And the reason is, Bingil Bay. The rainforest comes right down to the high water mark. The Pacific is terrific. Warm as soup. And just off the coast lies the Great Barrier Reef. Man, when you go diving there you don't need this-" He holds up a joint. "-to have a psychedelic trip. As someone once said: 'It's as if you had died and found yourself in heaven, it's that beautiful.' That's where I go to unwind."

"You certainly have a wonderful life."

The juggler looked long and hard at the naive white-collar worker and considered whether or not to confront him with some of the harder facts of street life, but decided to be kind.

"Swings and roundabouts. Swings and roundabouts. The main thing is to follow your heart. Yup, that's the main thing."

A lone busker was singing:

"Some men climb the mountain
Some men swim the sea.
Some men fly above the sky
They're all what they must be..."

The light was fading. Still the two men sat there, sometimes exchanging a few words, but mostly just being the watchers. They watched people scurrying in the dusk; they watched as trams clanged workers home in the rush hour. They watched the lights come on; they watched the square emptying.

The juggler finally got to his feet, swung a large hold-all bag over one shoulder, and took the unicycle in the other hand.

"Be good, and if you can't be good, be careful." With that he was off. Sigurd gave a little wave.

The square was filling up again with the night crowd, out looking for excitement. Several groups and individuals were now busking in different parts of the square. Still Sigurd sat there, almost a fixture, until in the late night there remained only a group of Spanish musicians and a flamenco dancer. They were doing a number "Till the Singer is the Song".

Disappearing is a wonderful feeling
Sing out loud, sing out strong
Disappearing is a wonderful feeling
Sing till the singer is the song...

And the same for the dance
Here again there is the chance
For the dancer to advance
And be the dance....

Sigurd rose, and with the sound of lusty castanets in his ears, he sauntered off. It was turning out to be the longest day of his life. And it was not over, yet.

He wandered aimlessly, passing a fair that had been set up on the Dam Square. The stately old Dam Palace beyond stood in marked contrast to the frenetically flashing lights on the fairground rides.

Hands thrust deep in his pockets, his brooding figure became bathed in eery blue light as he passed the windows where prostitutes displayed themselves in the red light district. He was oblivious to their beckoning.

Like a horse drawn to water, he found himself at the docks. He stood, precariously balanced, with the toes of his shoes extending beyond the edge of the quay. In a trance, he began to sway. The lights of dockland twinkled in the rippling water, gaiety blending seamlessly with depression. His world was liquid and whoosy, the edges blurred. In his head there was banging, as of heavy iron being beaten to summons plantation workers. The tempo quickened. Now he was hurtling down a huge, flashing blue-and-red coil. His head was close to bursting. The water below started whirling, faster and faster. The metallic sound pierced his brain. A vortex opened up and he was sucked in.


One of the patients in the psychiatric ward stood stock-still, listening with rapt attention to the radio resting on one shoulder, and supported with one hand. At the sound of atmospheric crackle, he pressed his ear to the speaker. Beside him was a row of beds, some with patients. At the end of the row lay Sigurd in white hospital clothes, teeth clenched tightly, sweat glistening on his face, and banging his calves repeatedly on the iron foot-end of his bed. The radio listener, excited now, moved along the row towards the corner.

"There! There! You hear that? That's them. Ha aha ahaa, they're coming through loud and clear. Imagine that, all the way from the Pleiades." Suddenly he screamed: "Take me with you! Take me with you-"

"Get away from me, you madman!" Sigurd barked at him. "Can't you see I'm being eaten up? From the inside? They're in my veins! They're in my veins!"

The radio listener was startled by this outburst. Behind him a few of the other patients began shuffling forward, looking on uncomprehendingly. Sigurd, too, looked startled, not quite able to take it in that he had been the source of the commotion. Then his face screwed up and the tears began to flow, ever more, ever more....


Under an overcast sky the autumn wind sent flurries of dead leaves across the almost deserted Leidseplein. Sigurd was sitting alone on the same bench as before, but wrapped now in a warm overcoat and scarf. Inside, he was empty, the very embodiment of loneliness. Where, how, was he to pick up the threads of a normal life?

"Sing for my supper," he said softly, absently to himself. "Sing for my supper. Supper. Supper." He repeated the word, sensing it could become a thread. "Supper. Cook supper. Cook." A picture from his childhood surfaced. There he was, taking a perfectly risen cake - a touch too brown at the back, but never mind - from the oven, to the applause of his mother. He rose, not so perfectly, from the bench, but with a firmness of step that enervated him further....


The usual pandemonium of a restaurant at peak time reigned. Chefs and assistant chefs scurried about the kitchen-cum-sauna, avoiding collision with the instinct of birds wheeling in formation. A great cloud of steam rose in one corner, hissing, and like a ship emerging from fog, there appeared Sigurd in blue-and-white scull cap, apron and galoshes to extricate another load of dishes from the industrial-sized dishwasher. He laid the stainless steel tray on a counter and drew his sleeve across his face to mop the sweat.

He liked the pressure. It kept him from thinking too much, from mulling things over endlessly and fruitlessly. The manual labour also gave him the feeling he was earning his money honestly. Even the quiet times, like the mornings, when he was employed cleaning or chopping vegetables, were physical.

"Sweat. That's it. Then you know you're living rightly. Then you're in balance," he said to no one in particular, and continued dicing turnips.

One of the kitchen hands responded with: "Before enlightenment, chopping vegetables. After enlightenment, chopping vegetables."

"Yeah. Right on," said another amiably as he stood at the back door, blowing smoke into the alley.

One night after closing time, the workers spilled out into the lane as usual and waved one another goodbye before going off in different directions. Sigurd counted his money, slipped it into his wallet, which he then pocketed. He turned the corner and entered the nearby Leidseplein. Up ahead, in the shelter of an archway, stood a collapsible table and two stools. Seated at one was a fortune-teller, cocooned in warm cape with hood, holding the hand of what appeared a rich society lady sitting on the other stool. Her hand was palm up, for a reading. Sigurd did not appear to notice them at first, but when almost past he turned his head to cast a peremptory glance in their direction, then continued resolutely on.

The next day he was adding the final touches to a row of salad bowls when the maitre d'hotel appeared to survey his handiwork.

"People eat with their eyes too!" he admonished imperiously. "Can you not try and make it a trifle more aesthetically pleasing? Hmmm?"

With that he swept two bowls from the table and strode hautily with them through the swing doors, into the restaurant, leaving Sigurd with a stunned expression on his face. Showing solidarity, one of the kitchen hands threw back his head in imitation of the maitre d'hotel, and with the tip of one finger stroked the tip of his nose in little upward movements. The others giggled, albeit a bit nervously.

That night, as they parted ways in the alley, one of the chaps called good-naturedly after Sigurd: "And I wish you an aesthetically pleasing night." They all laughed.

As he left the alley and turned the corner to enter Leidseplein he saw the fortune-teller, her back to him, jumping up and down and blowing on her hands in an effort to warm herself. He took in the scene at once, and quickly retraced his footsteps. Once back in the kitchen he filled a thermos flask with black coffee and sugar and was busy screwing on the cap when he thought of something. Casting a wary glance at the one cleaner still mopping up, he reached nonchalantly for the cooking brandy and poured generously into the flask.

This time when he rounded the corner, the fortune-teller was sitting alone but giving a cheerful impression. At the sound of his approaching footsteps, she turned her head: a new customer, perhaps?

"I brought you something to warm yourself," Sigurd said, or rather, blurted out. He cringed, realising that in his isolation of late he had lost even the veneer of social polish. But he was in now and had to save himself. "Ehmm," he tried, "I- ehm- I work at a restaurant around the corner. I was on my way home-" Here he scoffed. "Home? Huh. I was on my way home and saw you blowing on your hands. Oh god, this is looking all wrong, isn't it?" He hurriedly plonked the flask on the small table. "I'll just leave it here and be off." With which he started moving off.

The fortune-teller shook back the hood of her cape, which brought Sigurd pulling up short. He saw for the first time just how beautiful - exotically beautiful - this woman in her early thirties was. He tried to pin her origins. She had something of the gypsy, with Persian blood perhaps, and something of the European aristocrat. Her large gold earrings caught the light. Suddenly aware that he was gaping, he closed his mouth. She smiled, a big, generous smile.

"And leave me to drink alone?"

Completely off his stroke, Sigurd bumbled. "There's only one mug- cup- It's the cap. I mean, the cap is the mug. But there's only one-"

"And you have a fetish about not sharing mugs?

"No, no-"

"Then please," she motioned to the second stool, "be my guest, and I'll be..." she raised the flask, "your guest." Again she flashed that devastating smile. "My name is Yatri. And yours?"

"Sigurd." He held out his hand. She received it in hers, taking the time to look well at it.

"Beautiful hands. You should let me do a reading some time."

"I'm not earning much at the moment," he said, sitting down.

"And I'm not cheap. It would cost you, let's see... One flask of coffee. I take it this is coffee?"

"Laced with cooking brandy. That's all I could lay my hands on. The better stuff was locked away already."

"Wow! Then you get the de luxe version-"

"Well, look... Actually I don't believe in that sort of thing," he said, then added hurriedly: "I mean, I don't believe in it for me. Oh damn, now I'm goofing all over the place. I'm sorry."

"No offence taken. Honestly. These... oh, shall I say esoteric things... take a little getting used to."

She poured from the flask, savoured the smell, drank, then handed the mug to him.

"There's no hocus-pocus, like people think. Not with the genuine article, anyway."

"Yours is the genuine article, then?"

"I never pretend to see things, feel things, that I don't," she said thoughtfully. "It's a matter of opening yourself, being receptive to the other person's vibrations. And then combining intuition with common sense." Then lightly: "But I'm still learning! That is why I'm doing my apprenticeship in foreign places."

"Where are you from?"

"Where am I from? Where am I from? Oh my goodness me! Can't I just be an earthling?"

"Snap! Me too."

"Most recently, Heidelberg. If I can call any place home, now, then it's Heidelberg."

"I've only seen pictures. Medieval castle on the hill, old university. Beautiful, is it?"

"Beautiful. I'll be going back for Christmas and New Year."

"So fortune-telling is something you can learn?" he asked with a note of scepticism.

She was not put off. "It's more a question of honing your skills, than learning new ones. The same as with music, painting, anything in fact. You're born with a feeling for it and then you practise, practise, practise."

Sigurd sipped, then handed her the mug before asking: "And if you draw a blank? If, on occasion, you cannot see anything in the cards? What then?"

Yatri considered a moment, then said: "I should hope I would have the courage to admit it."

It was after midnight when Sigurd walked Yatri home, she carrying the flask, he the canvas bag with the collapsible table and stools. They talked easily, sauntering, and came to a halt beside a picturesque, four-storeyed, gabled house, a typical Amsterdam "grachtenhuis".

"Here we are. This is where I live."

"Very grand."

"Oh I only have one room. The house is divided into several apartments."

"Well, I guess I'll be on my way-"

"You're- You're welcome-" and she burst into laughter. "I was going to say, you're welcome to come up for coffee, but we've had that." Her tone changed. "Is something wrong?"

He had become distressed, quite suddenly. "Something? No, not something. Everything!"

"I'm sorry," said Yatri, shrinking back, "I've said something-"

"No no! I'm... I'm... I'm just going through a very bad patch and I'm not ready for... Ready for..." He sighed deeply. "It would not be fair to inflict myself on you now. Another time. Another time. Thank you. Thank you."

Old ghosts had been awakened and he teetered on the edge of schizophrenia. He walked away, muttering, leaving Yatri nonplussed. Suddenly remembering the thermos flask in her hands, she took one step forward, holding it out to him, but she did not call after him. Deep in thought, she bent to pick up the bag with her table and stools, and entered the house.

The following evening when the restaurant closed, Sigurd followed another route to the boarding house where he now had a room. His chat with Yatri had left him with the feeling that he was not ready for any meaningful social intercourse. Idle exchanges with fellow workers in the kitchen was about his measure for now.

Yatri was back at her post the next day. And the next, and the next. Conspicuous on her tiny table was the thermos flask - red too - like a beacon beckoning the strange Samaritan. She tried to put him out of her mind, but he remained, like a tiny wheat husk caught in one's underwear. His behaviour had been so contradictory. Fortunately for her, she had plenty of custom, and that took her mind off it.

In the second week of December it snowed heavily. With one benificent stroke the slushy, dark grey, cantankerous city was transformed into a hushed fairyland that lifted the spirits. Lifted the spirits, too, of the overgrown Sigurd. His hair was longer, so was his beard. With hands thrust deep into coat pockets, and head drawn into the shoulders against the cold, he crunched and squeaked his way through the virgin snow beside one of the smaller canals. He kept stopping to peer at the houses. At last he entered the pathway of the house he thought he recognised. His hand went out to the doorbell. Suddenly hesitant, he withdrew it. Then with firm resolve he punched the button. Vapour rose as he exhaled.

The door opened brightly, and a flighty young woman stood before him. "Hello. Can I help you?"

"Does a- Yatri. I've come to see Yatri."

"Come for a reading?"

He hesitated, then nodded.

"She's up in the clouds! Seventh Heaven, I shouldn't wonder!" She giggled. "That is to say, top floor. Attic, actually."

"Thank you," he said, and passed her as she stood aside.

He emerged from the stairwell, onto a small landing, and stood listening to the sound of Middle Eastern music coming from behind the one door. He screwed up his courage and knocked firmly. The door flew open, and with it came a blast of music. And there stood Yatri, in Sufi garments: wide crimson pantaloons, over which billowed a flowing gold dress. The large gold earrings were in place.

"Come in!" she panted. "I can't stop! I'm in the middle of Nataraz. Join me. Shoes off first."

Weeks had passed since their first meeting, yet if she was surprised to see him, she did not show it. Perhaps being in the middle of this Nataraz, whatever that might be, covered it. At any rate, he was relieved that he was being made to feel welcome. He kicked off his shoes, and allowed her to pull him by the hand - through a window, through a doorway - into her world.

It truly was another world. The room was long, with a high, peaked roof, ancient oak beams and broad wooden floorboards. Eastern silks flowed all about so that little of the daylight coming through the one dormer window and one skylight managed to penetrate the drapes. The warm and intimate light of a hundred candles, or thereabouts, prevailed. In a corner, on the floor, was a large foam rubber mattress covered with hand-woven oriental cloth and a cascade of embroidered cushions.

The music was whirling. Yatri danced around Sigurd, making the removal of his coat and scarf an integral part of her dance. She did not have to tell him what to do; her abandoned, free dance simply infected him. He started slowly, awkwardly, but in the atmosphere that had been created, by Yatri, the space, and the hypnotic music, he could not be left untouched.

Yatri's dancing was spellbinding, her long, nimble arms weaving patterns in the air, her skirts flairing. At times she rose like a spinning, hopping top to reappear in another part of the long room. The music reached a crescendo, then died. Yatri dropped to the floor and lay stretched out on her back. Sigurd did the same.

For ten minutes they lay, eyes closed, in complete silence, then the tailpiece - the epilogue - of the meditation music started playing gently. Yatri got up and swayed to the soothing sounds. Sigurd continued to lie there. When this piece came to an end he opened his eyes slowly. Blinked.

"Am I on the other side of the brick wall?"

"No hocus-pocus, you see? But magic nevertheless. Real magic."

She glided across to a small, low table where a glass teapot with a herbal melange was standing over a tea candle. She poured into two bone china bowls, handed one to Sigurd. They sat cross-legged on the wooden boards, sipping silently.

"Another?" asked Yatri when they had finished.

Sigurd cupped the bowl in his upturned hand and held it out to Yatri. As she took it, she did a double take, then put the bowl down on the floor and took his hand in hers.

"How extraordinary! Can I see your other hand?" He held it out. "Two of them! You are indeed blessed."

"Blessed?" he queried, mystified. Then in a jocular tone: "Well, I guess I am. There are people who don't have two healthy, strong, well-functioning hands-"

"No. I mean two healthy, strong, well-functioning Simian hands."

"Simian? That means it's got something to do with apes, then?"

"Yes indeed. Apes have this same characteristic."

"Great!" He paused. "What characteristic?"

"Most people have two horizontal lines in the middle of their palms. The head and heart lines. Here, give me your hand again." With her finger she traced across his palm. "Do you see? Only one line. Head and heart have merged. Now look at mine." She turned her hands palm up, and there were the normal two horizontal lines.

In awe, and a little scared, he asked: "What does it....signify?"

"Well, in common parlance, it means you're either a genius or an idiot."

Sigurd, genuinely unsure: "And how... how do you know which?"

Yatri gave him a reproachful look. "Now now, we're not fishing for compliments, are we? Anyway, that is, as I said, in common parlance - don't-we-just-love-duality-Aristotle-damn-your-eyes. Things are never as black-and-white as that."

"The one day I feel I can move the earth, the next I can hardly move my little finger. Maybe I'm both, a genius and an idiot."

"Oh by the way, Simian hands are fairly common among people with Down's Syndrome." She looked at him enquiringly. "I haven't offended you, have I?"

Several seconds passed before he answered. "No. No you haven't." Pause. "I often think they're the ones who've got it right."

"Lest ye be as little children, ye shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven?"

"Exactly so."

Yatri sat down in front of him and took hold of his hands, resting them in her lap. She looked hard at them, then looked deep in his eyes.

"These are the most wonderfully creative hands I've ever had the privilege of... of reading. You must do something truly wonderful with them."

Sigurd held her gaze for an intense few moments, then his eyes moved slowly down her face, her neck, the delicate collar bones... His wonderfully creative hands disentangled themselves and moved smoothly upwards, to do something truly wonderful. They cupped her breasts.


Sigurd and Yatri hurried along the platform of Amsterdam's Central Station, checking coaches and compartments, till they found the right one. They bundled the luggage on board and embraced like lovers on the platform.

"One week. Only one week!" Sigurd was in emotional pain. "And now you're going, gone. Back to the husband you're not in love with."

"No, not in love, but I told you, I do love him. He needs me, somewhere in his life, and- and I need him, as a friend. A dear friend."

Helpless now, Sigurd blurted out: "You- empower me! What now?"

"My dearest! I kick-started your motor, that is all. But you have immense power of your own. However low you once were, that's how high you will soar now. When our paths cross again, I know, with absolute certainty, you will have found your direction. Your voice."

The public address speakers crackled and a mechanical voice announced that the international train was about to depart. Yatri stroked Sigurd's cheek with the utmost tenderness.

"You will see." Then lightly: "I am not a fortune-teller for nothing. And here-" She pulled a gift-wrapped parcel from her bag. "Something to cast light on your path."

He took the parcel, suddenly mortified. "Oh oh oh... And I have nothing for you."

Yatri kissed him one last time and said: "Oh yes! I'll show you."

She boarded the train. As the conductor's whistle sounded to blow her away, she appeared at the window of her compartment. She dug in a bag and as the train started moving she held up the thermos flask, the bright red thermos flask, for him to see. And smiled so beautifully.

Sigurd waved, the train gathered speed, and was gone. He stood there like a statue while the platform emptied, then, coming out of his trance, he remembered the parcel in his hands. He opened it, to reveal material. As he unfolded this, a CD box fell to the ground. He left it there for the moment, absorbed as he was in what was revealed: a pair of royal red pantaloon trousers and an Eastern-style embroidered waistcoat inlaid with shiny little discs. When he had taken all this in, he bent to retrieve the CD box and read the title: "Nataraz Meditation."


The maitre d'hotel's theatrical rolling of his eyes continued and was irritating beyond measure, so Sigurd considered his options: he could resign and find work at another restaurant; he could ask him to get off his back, or better still, ram a cream tart in the man's face; or...or... he could use his "wonderfully creative hands" to good effect. He took to staying on an extra half hour or hour after closing time to practise "carving" vegetables into interesting shapes, or making intricate patterns on them. He did this with the aid of a book he had bought entitled (he winced when he saw it): "Eating With Your Eyes". With a razor-sharp little knife he learnt how to make roses out of radishes, totem poles out of turnips, crocodile jaws out of carrots, hippopotamuses out of peppers, Catherine wheels out of kiwis.

He was delighted at seeing what he was capable of making, but what surprised him most pleasantly was that he liked doing it. While carving, the mad merry-go-round in his head would slow down and though it did not disappear, it certainly took a back seat.

When he was confident enough, he decided to apply his new-found skill to the salad platters. He was just adding the final touches when the forebidding presence of the maitre d'hotel made itself felt. He glared at Sigurd, swooped like a marauding bird of prey, was about to scoop up a platter or two- and froze. Before him was a veritable feast for the eyes, a fairground of carousels and tableaux. The man bent his knees so his face was level with the table, and gaped at a potato boatman propelling his red pepper punt with a spaghetti pole across a sea of avocado dip. There was a deafening, pregnant silence. The kitchen staff edged closer, holding its collective breath.

The maitre d'hotel straightened, then, with the reverence of an archbishop serving communion at High Mass, he levitated a platter - or so it seemed - above one hand and issued the following commandment: "If anyone through there-" His gaze dramatically indicated the swing doors. "-dares to eat this with anything other than their eyes, I'll roast them!"

And with that he swept through to the restaurant.


At one end of a sparsely furnished room in the boarding house stood a kitchen table with a hanging lamp dangling above it. So involved was he with his woodcarving, that Sigurd almost always forgot it was there and consequently bumped it into its pendulous motion when he got up. He would rub his head, vexed, but his irritation disappeared quickly each time as he delighted in the dancing shadows the lamp orchestrated.

Having stretched and done a few simple exercises, he would resume his carving. Whittling. That's what he called it when he first put knife to wood, but when he realised his hands were being guided by a force greater than himself, he upgraded the term to carving. Not sculpting, that was still too grand a word, but carving. Woodcarving. The word felt friendly, benign.

Having whittled a paper knife and an incense holder, he had the feeling he should do something more challenging with his new-found skill. "You must do something truly wonderful," Yatri had said. What if he combined all his loves and talents... writing, an old passion for the theatre, music, woodcarving....they would all add up to... marionettes! So marionettes it was to be.

Yet it was not just a conscious decision. It was as if his whole being was steering him in this direction. He sensed, too, that there was a goal beyond a goal beyond a goal, like Chinese boxes within boxes.

He bought a book on making and manipulating marionettes, and set to work. He would have to carve shoes, or feet, hands, and a head. He started with shoes by making a likeness of his own boots. That took a mere four months, but they were beautiful, with tongues and creases and even shoelaces - red ones. Hands came next. This proved most awkward, because instead of plonking a boot on the table and copying it, he would have to stop every few seconds and hold one hand in the form he had decided to carve, try to picture it, then make a few cuts before the image melted away. By the time he had two hands in eloquent shapes, another six months had passed. It was painstaking work, yet he was blissfully absorbed in it. Never mind that he was a slow worker. After all, he was doing it in his free time only, while still working at the restaurant.

Then came the head. With absolutely no knowledge of anatomy, he relied on a mirror - in fact, two mirrors, so he could also look at the back and sides of his own head. He thought he would end up with a head, but what he ended up with after another six months, was his own face and head. A likeness of himself. Well, that couldn't be helped, he thought.

He showed his handiwork to Johanna, a middle-aged waitress at the restaurant who was pretty handy with a sewing machine, along with a rough sketch of the completed marionette.

"Would you? Could you? Please. I'd do it myself if I could, but I can scarcely sew on a button. And I'll pay you of course."

Johanna studied the sketch. "I can start by looking for a pattern, and buying the material, but I'll really need a completed doll-"

"Puppet. Marionette actually. Hanging from strings and all that."

"Well I'll need a completed marionette for the fittings."

"Okay. I'll get it done. And a thousand thanks."

Johanna smiled, nodded, and folded up the sketch.

Then one day, it was all done: the marionette stood there in his red trousers, white shirt, lilac scarf, red cape, and top hat. His head was bedecked with hair, beard and moustache. The most lifelike eyes had been glued into the sockets, and at the pull of a string attached to a switch inside his head, two tiny battery-operated lamps inserted in tunnels behind the sockets made the eyes light up. The lower jaw was cantilevered and hinged, with a weight added to make it shut. At the pull of a string the little fellow's mouth could be opened. He could speak!

In all, twelve strings connected the marionette to the controls, so it required much dexterity and discipline to master the movements of the puppet. Sigurd practised in the boarding house, got the strings all knotted, cursed, untangled the mess, practised some more, and some more... till he could contain himself no longer: off he marched to the restaurant kitchen to present his creation to his colleagues.

The kitchen hands, the chefs, and the waitresses - including Johanna - stood in a circle watching, entranced, while Sigurd manipulated the controls so as to make the little gentleman dance. He rounded up his routine by taking a bow.

"More! More!" a few people called.

In a voice pitched higher than his normal speaking voice, Sigurd talked with clenched jaws and tight lips while working the puppet's mouth string.

"Thank you, ladeeees an' gennelmen. And if you, young lady," he said, turning to Angelique, the prettiest of the waitresses, "would care to meet me in my dressing room after the show-" And now came the piece de resistance. The marionette hopped onto the table next to Angelique, Sigurd pulled the string attached to the light switch, and the little roué winked at her!

The poor girl was almost apoplectic with delight and had to cross her legs to prevent wetting herself.

"He's beautiful! I want to just hug him," she exclaimed when she could speak.

"Ah, clothes maketh the man," he gestured modestly towards Johanna.

"He looks like you," observed one of the kitchen hands.

"I had to keep looking in the mirror," explained Sigurd, "to see how a face is constructed. How it all fits together. This is the first time I've carved anything, really."

"Apart from radishes and turnips," said Johanna.

They all laughed.

"I've got it!" she lit up. "If you look alike, why don't you dress alike? Mister Woodcarver," she said precisely, "you need a cape, just like your alter ego."

"Would you... Would you mind?"

"The picture simply would not be complete without you in a cape too."

"And a top hat!" someone called.

"They're expensive, aren't they?" said Sigurd.

"They have them second-hand at the flea market. On Waterlooplein."

Her face flushed, Angelique asked: "What are you going to call him?"

There was complete silence: somehow they all knew this was an auspicious moment. From the distant past came the memory of his mother telling him she had named him after King Sigurd, a courageous, compassionate and much loved monarch who had reigned over his people in Scandinavia around the year 500 A.D. Whether truth or myth, was not certain. Perhaps a bit of both. The Germans had a similar story called the Nibelungenlied, in which Sigurd becomes Ziegfried. Thence Wagner's Ring Cycle operas. "Your name means sunshine after rain, calm after the storm," she had said.

"He represents my higher self, the royalty in me." He listened bemused to his own words, as if they were coming from someone else. "So he shall be king. He will be known henceforth as King Sigurd."

"And you shall be known henceforth as The Woodcarver," proclaimed Johanna.

There was enthusiastic cheering. A few chefs' hats were tossed into the air.

"Speech! Speech!" someone called.

Drawing himself to his full height, Sigurd said in a parody of solemnity: "Where he dares to go, I will follow." And then a shiver ran down his spine as he realised it was no parody.

At that moment the swing doors of the restaurant flew open and the maitre d'hotel was in their midst. He missed only one beat as he took in the spectacle of the marionette.

"We won't put him in the salad, hmmm? On the sideboard will do nicely."

Everyone gaped at him. Angelique got the giggles and crossed her legs again.


Trembling with fear, the Woodcarver bowed his head and pressed his palms against the tree like a pilgrim touching a shrine. He was dressed in red trousers, white shirt, lilac scarf and boots with red shoelaces. Beside him on the ground was an old rucksack.

"Give me strength! Oh god, give me strength."

Slowly he raised his head to the heavens- and was transfixed by what he saw: a little man wielding a saw was standing on a branch of the gnarled old plane tree. As he wondered at the odd placement of the sculpture, a dishevelled hermit sauntered up to him.

"Notice something?" the man challenged. "He's at the wrong end of the branch, hee hee hee. He's heading for a fall!"

The Woodcarver's eyelids fluttered and he sucked in his breath. Did the hermit's observation have any bearing on him? Did it foretell doom and disaster? Well, maybe his debut was destined to be a debacle, but there had to be a first time, and this was it. He gathered his rucksack and walked the hundred metres or so to Leidseplein. Centre stage, so to speak, was occupied by a group of acrobats. He considered the position, thought better of it, and moved off to a quieter corner of the square. He swung the rucksack off his back, unpacked a small cassette player, donned a large red cape of crushed velvet and a threadbare top hat, placed an old beret on the ground before him, and reached for King Sigurd. He pulled the marionette carefully from the rucksack, removed the cover that helped to keep the many strings from getting tangled, and took a deep breath. He pressed the "play" button on the casstte deck, and the faint music was stillborn. Turning the volume up to the maximum made it just audible, but distorted, yet he had no alternative. The lyrics crackled forth.

"I love you whether I show it or not.
I love you whether you know it or not.
There are so many things I have to share inside my heart,
Perhaps this is a good time to start."

Sweating with nerves, the Woodcarver started working the controls, concentrating intensely on what he was doing and making little contact with his audience - potential audience, that is to say, for with this degree of introversion he was hardly likely to draw crowds.

There was no getting around it: it was a tortuous debut. He lacked stage presence and the crowds, scarcely able to distinguish him as a performer, kept bumping into him so that he was forced from time to time to whip King Sigurd out of harm's way. This certainly did not help with continuity.

After some minutes of this eminently forgettable performance, an older man stopped before him and watched with some interest. So grateful was the Woodcarver to have an audience - any audience! - that he did his best. When the tape came to an end, the man addressed him.

"My dear fellow, you must get out of Amsterdam. I used to do this," he waved an arm to take in the square, "playing on the street, and I can tell you from experience you will do better elsewhere."

"Where then?"

"Anywhere, but not Amsterdam."

"I don't get it. Everyone comes to Amsterdam, surely-"

"That's exactly it! Nothing is new any more. They've seen it all. If you rode through here naked on an elephant with your hair on fire, nobody would give you a second glance. Go play the small towns. Amsterdam is for the bold, the brassy, the brave. Besides," here he allowed a note of sympathy to enter his voice, "I'd guage you haven't logged too many flying hours. I know," he put up a hand, "I'm being cruel, but cruel to be kind. You'll thank me for it. Later."

With that he took out his wallet, peeled off a note, and placed it in the beret.

"To get you started," he said, and turned to go. "Nice puppet," he called over his shoulder. "Best of luck."


Depressed, the Woodcarver sat at his table that night, stirring a cup of coffee endlessly. King Sigurd stood before him, his controls suspended from a cord that hung from the ceiling.

"We didn't exactly take the world by storm, did we?" The Woodcarver looked up at his creation. "Did we?"

He looked hard into the coffee cup, as if the answer to his problems might lie there. It didn't. He leant forward and worked the marionette's mouth string while speaking in the king's voice.

"No sirree, you simply weren't meant to be king of the road, like that juggler, and all those others performing out there."

The Woodcarver settled back in his chair and resumed his examination of the coffee grains.

"Now I won't have it, do you hear? I will not have you putting words into my mouth." Said King Sigurd of his own volition.

You would have expected the Woodcarver, at hearing the king speak under his own steam, to have jumped like a man touching a live wire, but no. This was so fantastic, thus he knew it was nothing but a dream.

"If you thought you could be an overnight sensation, you are suffering from delusions of grandeur," the small figure continued.

Again he did not jump. Instead, he calmly slapped his own cheek. And again, harder this time. Then pinched his arm.

"Practise, my lad, practise. That's what you need, and lots of it," said King Sigurd.

Now there could be no doubt left in the Woodcarver's mind that the marionette had spoken all by himself. What surprised him, however, was that he was not all that surprised at this extraordinary phenomenon. Could it be that it was, well, normal, of a kind? I mean to say, there were precedents in history, he reasoned, which were well documented in books.

"So you speak," he said simply to his likeness.

"Indeed. But let's keep it between ourselves, shall we? It is for your own safety."

"How so?"

"There are people out there who do not believe in impossible things. And they are ready to crucify those who do."

"Okay," agreed the Woodcarver, rather liking the taste of mystery.

"Practise," repeated the king. "Now here's my plan: cut down on your hours at the restaurant, then two or three times a week you and I shall board a train for some outpost, like the man said-"

"It'll work!" broke in the Woodcarver, gaining confidence from something he remembered. "That's what- That's what Yatri said. She said it was easier to learn new things in far-off places."

"No one you know to laugh at you when you make a fool of yourself, hey? So, all those who agree, say 'aye'."

"Aye!" they chorussed.

"The 'ayes' have it," the king adjudicated.

And thus began a whole new adventure. Three times a week they set out for Amsterdam Central Station, passing the large street organ in the forecourt, and boarded a train for one of the smaller Dutch towns. Even the furthest flung, like Groningen and Middelburg and Maastricht were little more than three hours' travel away.

Even the train journeys themselves were productive. As the wheels beneath them went clickety-clack, clickety-clack, the Woodcarver's knife went snippety-slice, snippety-slice....

And how liberating it was to be anonymous on the street. They certainly dared more!

"Why can we not always be so spontaneous? Hmm, Your Majesty? I have always envied little children when they danced and hopped and sang and rolled head over heels. Oh to be so unfettered."

"But now you are," the king said simply.

The Woodcarver considered this for a moment. "How right you are. And I have you to thank for it."

"Quite so. You try doing all those things without me and you'll see, men in white coats will take you away and lock you up. It's dangerous being alive, really alive."

These were busy times, and healing times. A whole new world had opened up, but that world needed furnishing. The very next item required, after the king, was a miniature street organ to house the grubby-looking tape deck. The carved facade was modelled on a famous Black Forest organ built at the end of the nineteenth century. To make it all appear authentic, the Woodcarver bought a tape of organ music from the organ grinder.

Within a few months the Woodcarver had become so familiar with working the king's controls that he was able to take his eyes off them and start looking his audience in the eye. And what a difference this made, not only with the quality of performance, for now the public were drawn into the play, but with the amount of earnings. They doubled overnight!

It was not all ups. There were downs too, when the Woodcarver would sink into deep depression as he surveyed the course his life had taken. Had he made the right choices, breaking completely with his previous life, his family, his friends? Breaking with the norms and values that had been drummed into him? What had he become? A kind of Steppenwolf, an eccentric who stood alone in a gawking crowd with only a wooden puppet for a friend.

"Oh aren't we just the victim today," piped the voice of the little king. "Well, don't just stand there. Use that energy."

"What energy?"

"There's more horsepower in sadness than gladness - if you know how to harness it. Now listen well..." and the king began to sing a song entitled "Base Metal into Gold".

Lonely I go on in search of the other
For solace I cling, cling to a lover
Yet nowhere does loneliness scream so loud
As in the thick, the thick of the crowd.

No sanctum sanctorum
No respite no haven
The only way out
Is in, is in.

Sadness I want to be free of thee
Heavy of heart I try to flee.
Gloom and doom wherever I run
I find you there to spoil the fun.

Yet hug the tiger
And you will uncover
The treasure that's buried
In despair.

Woe we're locked in a tug-o'-war
I want to explore you to the core.
So sadness my trusty old friend may I have
The pleasure of the next dance with you...

And with alchemy
We shall transform the
Base metal
Into gold.

"Now," directed His Majesty, "carve your gloom and misery. Let us see the victim!"

Some months later they were playing a tiny medieval town called Oudewater which still boasted a scale used during the Dark Ages to weigh women, to determine if they were witches or not. If you were light enough to fly about on a broom, you had to be a witch, not so?

It was here that the world's ultimate victim, Victimus Ultimus, was first introduced to the public. And what a misery he was, sitting there forlornly in the stocks. He had a wooden leg, a bandaged hand, and wore a hangdog expression. To the accompaniment of music from the miniature organ, they sang a dirge:

Don't take his problems from him, don't.
What is he left with if you do?
An awful lot of emptiness, emptiness
With nothing, nothing at all to do...

It's nothing less than a caress, it touches, stirs and moves you
To be diddled and duped and have your life made crappy.
Now you can say: "I told you so, I told you so."
It's not very bright but you'd rather be right than happy.

You work yourself into a state over that which the other did wrong
Castigate yourself as if it's you who is to blame
It's quite absurd, it's quite insane, quite insane
You build your prison brick by brick and even add a ball and chain...

He stood before the very door, the door to the promised land
Was poised to knock upon that door, boom boom! Boom boom!
Yet faint of heart, away he went, away he went
He was, you see, not ready yet to bloom....

The Woodcarver suspended King Sigurd from a collapsible stand, then bent over Victimus Ultimus and worked his controls. With clenched jaw and tight lips, a low and mournful voice emanated from him. Though his ventriloquism was by no means perfect, the public were generous and went along with the pretence that it was Victimus himself speaking.

"Oh woe is me! Nobody loves me. The end is nigh. Doom and desolation, sackcloth and ashes...."

To see if this was having the desired effect, the Woodcarver cast a surreptitious glance at the ornate copper and brass "centabakje" which Dutch organ grinders traditionally use for collecting contributions. This had by now replaced the grimy old beret. And yes, Victimus' wails were being well received, judging by the flow of coins.

"That's not enough!" cried the old misery while waving with his bandaged hand and stamping with his wooden leg. "What's that pittance going to buy? Barley broth and nothing more! Oh woe is me..."

And the coins came raining in.

So it was they were on a roll the entire spring. Perhaps it was the season; or maybe the planets were favourably aligned; or could it be all these factors, combined with their improving showmanship? Whatever it was, they soon had enough money to make a big investment.

The Woodcarver hesitated outside a ramshackle shed with an oil-soaked forecourt, then realised that for his purse, he was probably at the right address. Inside was a Roma car dealer in soiled overalls. Catching sight of his greasy, cracked hands with torn nails, he did not proffer a hand.

"I'm looking for a van of sorts, something I can sleep in if necessary."

"How much you wanna pay?"

The Woodcarver lifted the large canvas bag at his side and poured its contents onto a grimy desk. As the mountain of coins grew, the man appeared reassured: this was a language he understood. Together they sorted the coins into the different denominations.

An hour or two later there emerged from the building a red, rusty, Russian make station wagon - already christened The Czarina - which belched its way along the feeder lane to the highway.

That night the Woodcarver attacked his wood with fresh zeal. Now he had a vehicle, he was chomping at the bit to explore further horizons - as soon as he had finished the marionette he was working on.

"And I thought we were going to travel, to see the world, but oh no, Mr. Woodcarver here first has to complete the likeness of his lost love. Woe is me!" lamented Victimus. (Yes, you guessed it: Victimus, like King Sigurd, was able to carry on conversations with the Woodcarver - and other "little people" - but only in private.)

"Shush, Victimus. I'm trying to concentrate." He cast another glance at the photograph of a playful Yatri posturing with the thermos flask, which was propped up in front of him on the work table, then resumed carving.

"When do we set out?" Victimus whined.

"All in good time."

"God grant me patience- quickly please!"

Which he must have done, for when they set out on their first cross-border trip a few weeks later - to Germany - Victimus appeared still to be in one piece, rocking in the stocks behind the driver's seat. Behind the passenger seat stood King Sigurd, suspended from a hook in the roof, and swaying rhythmically to the motion of the vehicle. Between them swung - or flew - a magic carpet, on which sat Yin-Yin the Wise Witch. She resembled Yatri, the more so as her dress was similar to the flowing gold garment Yatri had once danced in.

Long car trips are conducive to singing, and this one was no exception. Yin-Yin, in her mellow voice, sang her very own song, one which embodied her outlook on life. It was entitled "Butterfly Kisses":

I drew back the curtain
And a realisation struck a chord
After being away
So long.
It fluttered into my room
And I sought to hold it oh so near
But it only whispered
In my ear.

There are the very learned
Who say they know it all
And they try to pin
It down.
They snatch out in vain
For a fistful of air
But their hands are left
Utterly bare.

If you really really want to know
Then know that you can never know
For if you know that you know
Then you really really do not know.
But a butterfly kiss
Will hit, will miss
Enchant, tantalise
And leave you in bliss.

"Why is everyone going faster than us?" queried Victimus.

"Speed freaks," muttered the Woodcarver.

"I don't believe this heap of scrap metal can go any faster-"

Just there the reasonably smooth sound of the engine was interrupted by a hiccup.

"Don't say that, Victimus," scolded Yin-Yin. "Do you imagine the Czarina is insensitive to that sort of remark?"

"Achtung! Achtung!" called King Sigurd. "Rechts, rechts! Und dann gerade aus."

They passed beneath the exit sign for Hameln and the Czarina obediently swung off to the right.

"Hameln? Hamelin? Hamelen. Pied Piper?" the Woodcarver mulled over the different names.

"One and the same," said the king. "Now we shall see for ourselves if the city fathers have learnt the lesson taught them by the Pied Piper."

"What? What lesson?" queried Victimus.

The Woodcarver ignored him. "You're expecting rather a lot if you think they'll be kept in line by a lesson taught eight centuries ago."

"It was one helluva lesson," said King Sigurd.

"Will someone please tell me what lesson?" pleaded Victimus.

"There was this guy in a floral coat," began the Woodcarver, "who played a mean flute. The town at that time was bedevilled by a plague of rats, and he claimed he could bewitch them with his flute and lead them out of town. For a fee. Which the city fathers agreed to pay, if he succeeded. Well, he succeeded all right, but the city fathers did what politicians do best: renege on their promises-"

"What's that mean?" asked Victimus.

"Lie like their feet stink," cut in the king.

"They went back on their promise. So what does the Pied Piper do?"

"What does pied mean?" asked Victimus.

"Many coloured. So what does he do? Take it lying down? Make a fat cat lawyer rich in never-ending litigation? No sirree! He returns, playing his flute, only this time he bewitches not the rats but all the children of the town, and leads them off to their deaths."

"Ooooh," said Victimus pensively.

Having found parking, the Woodcarver entered the old Renaissance town with his cape and top hat in his rucksack. He stopped to join a group watching a young woman snip a silhouette of a client sitting opposite her on a small stool. He was fascinated with her speed and precision as her scissors flashed in the sunlight. When satisfied with the likeness, cut out of black paper, she glued it onto white cardboard, signed it with a flourish, and handed it to the customer who in turn handed her a ten euro note.

As the next client settled into position, the young artist stretched to ease the cramp in her shoulders. She noticed the Woodcarver, and smiled.

"I know how you feel," he said in his high school German. "I'm a woodcarver."

"Are you carving... on the street?"

"No no. I make marionettes. We'll be performing here. When I've found the right spot."

"I'll come and have a look in a while."

Some time later King Sigurd sat reclining in his little deck chair on one side of the small organ, while Victimus Ultimus sat in the stocks on the opposite side. Yin-Yin the Wise Witch flew about among the spectators, stopping from time to time to shake hands with a child. At the end of a song, the Woodcarver and Yin-Yin took a bow. The audience clapped enthusiastically, none so much as the silhouette artist, whom the Woodcarver had not seen arrive. She remained when the crowd dispersed, stepped forward and handed the Woodcarver a sheet of cardboard with a silhouette pasted onto it. It depicted him in action with King Sigurd.

"My god you're good. And fast! I'm overwhelmed. How much do I owe you?"

"Nothing. I was touched by the- I find it heart-warming, what you do. I mean, bringing light into people's lives." She blushed.

"I do? Gosh. I've been concentrating so hard on what I'm doing - I'm pretty new to this, but I guess you can see that. Anyway, I've hardly been able to stand back and get the bigger picture. It's such a relief to hear you say that, what you said. Look, can I at least buy you a coffee?"

In the small hours of the morning a rejuvenated Woodcarver could be seen skipping happily home along the almost deserted pedestrian mall. To the beat of his ringing footsteps he sang: "I love you whether I show it or not. I love you whether you know it or not...."

He opened the driver's door, slid smoothly behind the wheel, and sighed contentedly.

"Did we- Did we- Did we have a good time then?"

It was Yin-Yin's voice, unsteady and mingled with sniffing. His expression now sheepish and apologetic, like that of a man caught cheating, he turned to look at her when Victimus threw in his ha'penny's worth.

"She's been woeful. Oh boo hoo hoo."

"What the hell do you expect from me? To live like a monk!" the Woodcarver yelled, then whipped round and turned the ignition. After all, the best defence is offence.

The motor was slow in starting. "Damn!" he cried, almost breaking the key with the force he used to turn it. At last the engine fired.


It was a tranquil, rural scene beside the Weser River, with the heady scent of flowering shrubs hanging in the air, and a bright sun in a clear sky. It was not matched by the mood that prevailed. The Czarina stood under some trees between the road and the water, five kilometres from Hameln, the back door open. A few metres off, beside a small open fire, stood a pot of coffee. The Woodcarver sat in his deckchair - a larger version of King Sigurd's deckchair - making a poor job of toasting bread spiked on a willow branch. He looked across to the van, hoping to give Yin-Yin a conciliatory smile, but she still refused to meet his eye. And of course, with his attention diverted, the bread burst into flames.

While jumping up like a scalded cat and juggling wildly with his unique brand of firestick, a piece of wood he had been working on rolled from his lap and onto the ground. It was the beginnings of a head.

King Sigurd recited: "'If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs-'"

"Thank you very much!" was all the Woodcarver could manage.

"Just jesting."

Jesting? The term resonated with the Woodcarver. He rolled his tongue around it in its various forms - Jester... The Fool... Buffoon... Court Fool....

"Court jester," he finally spat out, with satisfaction. "After all, no self-respecting king would be seen dead without his court jester."


In Bad Salzuflen, close to Hameln, there are ten-metre-high walls of cascading salt water stretching for hundreds of metres in the centre of this health resort. They are said to purify the air and to have therapeutic powers. Just the thing then for the painfull hump on Gall's back.

With one such wall as backdrop, the gristly old hunchback in his gawdy court attire (including winkle-pickers with bells) hung from a rope like a caricatured bell-ringer, and belted out his song in a whisky voice.

The way of The Fool is a very strange one
You end up where you started, however hard you run
Young Fool reaches for the pie in the sky
Yet the answer is here and not on high.

We dance, we sing, we laugh, we love
We dance, we sing, om mane padme hum.

Listen to the King, if its' wisdom that you seek
Salvation is not for the mild and the meek
In church, I know, goodness is the fashion
Yet to be in heaven you have to live with passion.

We dance, we sing, we laugh, we love
We dance, we sing, om mane padme hum.

Gone's the common touch now I walk again with kings
I gain on the roundabouts what I lost on the swings
The Wise Man and his Fool, never say die
Gemini, the King and I.

We dance, we sing, we laugh, we love
We dance, we sing, om mane padme hum.

The Woodcarver pulled on the strings and Gall took a bow, to the tinkling of the bells on his cap.


Their lives, it appeared with the passage of time, had taken on a recognisable pattern. The Woodcarver had to all intents and purposes moved on from kitchen hand to street artiste. Occasionally, upon returning to Amsterdam, he would fill in as a relief worker, thus retaining social contact with his old compadres. Their travels took them further and further, till the whole of Europe became their stage. The Woodcarver would say to the Czarina: "Find the centre of town," in much the way one would say: "Rover, fetch ball." What the Russian aristocrat would do then, was follow a small stream of traffic till it joined a larger stream, and a larger, till at last she was swept into the maelstrom that led to the very epicentre of a new town.

"Now that is geography," the Woodcarver would chortle, tossing the van, not a biscuit, but a litre of high grade oil with all the additives.

They would perform for a few hours, the duration dependant on public response, whereupon the Woodcarver would glug down a half litre of milk to soak up the poisons of inner city pollution, and head for open country, or a park, or a cemetery - such havens of rest - to continue his carving.

What he carved, or who he carved, just seemed to happen of its own, at times a product of where they were or what they were experiencing on their travels. He often felt he was just an onlooker, of his own work.

"Ah, do you see what the man's making now?" he would enthuse, in awe at what emerged from his hands, his simian hands.

As his skills improved, the birth rate went up. It now took not eighteen months gestation for a new member of the family to emerge - as had been the case with King Sigurd - but a mere six months. They were popping out like rabbits!

"And who have we here?" he would say in wonder, as each new member of the troupe arrived. "At any rate, another product of immaculate conception." His eyes would glance heavenwards, and he would say: "Thanks, holy ghost."

One day, as he sat carving, he pricked up his ears when he heard Gall addressing King Sigurd.

"As court jester, sire," he began, "it is incumbent upon me to give Your Majesty the benefit of the fruits of my deliberations-"

"Your point, my dear Gall. Your point is?"

"My point, Your Majesty, is this: we cannot merely idle along aimlessly while the Woodcarver here criss-crosses the continent. You have a mission. You must take up where you left off in Lapland fifteen hundred years ago...."

It just so happened the Woodcarver had of late been delving into the Eddas - medieval Icelandic poems on Norse legends - to learn more about his namesake. It appeared the original King Sigurd had been a monarch of god-like stature who had ruled his people with courage, compassion and wisdom in the far-flung wastes of the icy north.

"...So may I suggest the use of a Magic Mirror this time round? If we are to dredge a few souls from the quagmire-"

"A Magic Mirror, you say?"

"Indeed, sire. A Magic Mirror would be most useful in getting people to discover their inner king. Or queen. Prince or princess, for that matter. Imagine if everyone was comfortable in his own skin, stood firmly in his own shoes, had a high self-esteem. Aah, that would be something. Yes indeed, a Magic Mirror."

"Good suggestion, my dear Gall. I'll have a word with the Woodcarver."

So it came to pass that by the time they reached the Czech town of Karlovy Vary, the Woodcarver had made a beautiful Magic Mirror with a crown on top. Now what better place to present it to the world than the historic bathing resort of the kings and queens of Europe? This exquisite town - barring one or two modern abominations - was situated in a serpentine valley with, at its centre, a majestic colonnade sheltering a spring of healing water.

Flanked by two palms and watched over by gargoyles leaning precariously from the balcony of the colonnade, the Woodcarver donned his cape with a flourish, tilted his top hat at a rakish angle, and surveyed his audience. Still sipping the spring water from strange-looking earthenware jugs, they edged closer as the Woodcarver launched into the song "Mirrors for the Blind".

There was a man
He came into town
There was a man
He came into town.

They asked him: "Why
Have you come to town?"
They asked him: "Why
Have you come to town?"

King: "To sell mirrors to the blind."
All: "What?"
King: "To sell mirrors to the blind."

And when they look in those mirrors
The blind will learn to see.
With a crown on your head you are bound to know
The royalty in thee...

Once you have seen who you really are
You always can be free.

Mirrors of gold
With jewels are showing you the truth.
These mirrors of gold
With jewels show the truth.

As the song progressed, the Woodcarver held up the Magic Mirror so that a little girl could see her face reflected in it. He spoke no Czech, but with elaborate gestures he managed to get the message across that she was now a princess. To enthusiastic applause, she beamed and turned to the crowd, seeking her mother's approval. There had been no mistaking the Magic Mirror's power to empower.

Later, a warm glow of fulfillment bathed the little band of players as they relaxed in the woods, close to the Tepla River that snaked through the town. Having a mission now, gave direction to their lives, and that in turn meant they could set out each day with resolve.

"Is that not so, Victimus?" the Woodcarver asked, noticing the old misery was examining himself in the Magic Mirror at that moment. But he appeared not to hear.

Now followed a period of consolidation. The skills acquired thus far were honed further as they moved from one beautiful, historic town to the next, as yet unaware of the storm clouds gathering far off that were to toss them to and fro in a tumult of adversity. Knowing of no worse, the irritations of life on the street that they suffered now seemed big enough.

Charles's Bridge in Prague had to be played, if only to be able to say they had done it, but once was enough on that famous landmark that straddled the Vitava River. It was like being tossed into a tumble-dryer. Just to think of that milling crowd was exhausting. His arms aching, his back breaking, the Woodcarver looked to the heavens for salvation - but his gaze fell on the one statuary group (of the thirty on that bridge) that he least needed to see: there was poor Jesus, arms outstretched, nailed to his cross.

Jostled to distraction, he packed his bags and elbowed his way through the sluggish human stream. Rucksack on back and collapsible stand in hand, he left the bridge and then almost ran across the flagstones in his hurry to get away, away. Once off the tourist route the pressure eased. He found himself walking beside a high wall when he heard the clanging of an approaching tram. Again his nerves jangled. He pressed himself against the wall as if fearful of being run down - and fell through a doorway that was flush with the wall and hard to distinguish. Regaining his balance, he looked about him in wonder. As the door swung closed he saw that he had stumbled into a gigantic secret garden.

"Through the brick wall," he whispered ever so softly, careful not to disturb the gnomes and elves and fairies that might be present.


Summer was for Scandinavia. They stood beneath the ramparts of "Hamlet's Castle" in Helsingor, Denmark, surrounded not by Danes but Swedes. The one kilometre of water separating their two countries was reputed to be the busiest sea crossing on earth, with giant ferries transporting millions of passengers per annum. Mornings they would disgorge sober Swedes on Danish soil, only to carry home the same day a swill of swaying Swedes who had capitalised on the low liquor prices in the neighbouring country.

The trick was to catch the Swedes at the point where they were happy - and generous - inebriates. Stay on the street too long, and you were likely to encounter morbid - and miserly - drunks.

It was here that Gall - although not tipsy - thought he had spotted The Moor, another of Shakespeare's characters. Yin-Yin, after massaging his hump, managed to convince him that the Woodcarver had just completed his latest marionette, a black African youth wearing both boxing gloves and football boots. His name was Maqina - the "Q" was pronounced with a resounding Xhosa click - which meant "mission". He, like all the others, had his own, characteristic song. It was entitled "The Luminous Innocent".

In Hamlet's Castle we spotted a black
We called out loud: "Who is that?"
Our jester he cried: "Hello fellow
If I'm not much mistaken, that was Othello."

Oh take heed if you are a heinous hyena
'Cause then you're up against the might of Maqina
For those who are my brothers my message is love
For those who are not there's a fist in a glove.

Bureaucrat: "What have we here if not a parasite
In a land which is meant to be snowy white?"
Maqina: "I may be a fellow of slender means
But what I got a lot of is crackerjack genes!

Oh take heed if you are a heinous hyena
'Cause then you're up against the might of Maqina
For those who are my brothers my message is love
For those who are not there's a fist in a glove.

Imperials came and simply looted
The land in which I was firmly rooted
Our wise old ways they did efface
And in their place came artifice.

Oh take heed if you are a heinous hyena
'Cause then you're up against the might of Maqina
For those who are my brothers my message is love
For those who are not there's a fist in a glove.

Preach, preach, preach, yet it's time to learn
Of simple things (for which you yearn)
Growth, growth, growth, but if bulls turn to bears
I got more wealth in some home-grown wares.

Oh take heed if you are a heinous hyena
'Cause then you're up against the might of Maqina
My name means mission, and I aim to advance
The cause of the African Renaissance.

King Sigurd: "In white man's land we're bungling, it's a mess
A little primal wisdom wouldn't go amiss
Here to come and help us, out of Africa we're sent
A luminous innocent."

Oh take heed if you are a heinous hyena
'Cause then you're up against the might of Maqina
My name means mission, and I aim to advance
The cause of the African Renaissance.

Bureaucrat: "All very well, these A1 genes
But are you able, say, to make machines?"
Maqina: "Depends on where you focus, you pompous arse
Each has his own wayof showing his class."

Oh take heed if you are a heinous hyena
'Cause then you're up against the might of Maqina
For those who are my brothers my message is love
For those who are not there's a fist in a glove.

Magic and the supernatural
Are present in our culture overall
What you lable loony is a light so bright
Spirits sent to guide us through the dark of night.

Oh take heed if you are a heinous hyena
'Cause then you're up against the might of Maqina
My name means mission, and I aim to advance
The cause of the African Renaissance.

Gall appraised the newcomer, looking pointedly first at his studded football boots, then at the boxing gloves on his fists.

"Well, kid, when you gonna make up your mind?"

"I'm keeping my options open," replied Maqina with simple logic.

The flicker of a smile crossed Gall's face: he liked the boy.


The Czarina gallantly and with nary a protest, chomped up the kilometres.

"We'll work our way south, slowly, so that by the time winter comes, we'll be in warmer latitudes," announced the Woodcarver. "What do you say, Maqina? A little closer to Africa, hey?"

"Will you please pronounce my name correctly?" he asked politely.

"I'm trying. I'm trying. But you must understand, a click might be second nature to you, but to a non-black... whew!"

Some time later, in the fading light of dusk, the Woodcarver was leaning up against the wall of a pond in the centre of Marienbad, idly flicking a few shavings from the wood he had been carving, when out of the corner of his eye he noticed a hermit in hessian sitting on the ground in a beautiful old wrought-iron-and-glass gallery. The man, surprisingly young, shuffled over towards him.

"Oh lordy," he muttered, expecting this to become messy, but before he could move away the young chap had grabbed him by the arm, and was trying to turn him around. He resisted, but the hermit became excited and kept jabbing a finger at the pond and calling out a word he did not understand. He was about to shake him off firmly when, at that precise moment, the pond exploded in a symphony of sound, light and dancing jets of water. He remembered the words once uttered by the juggler on Leidseplein about something being so beautiful he thought he had died and was in heaven. He was looking now at the most fantasmagorical water organ anyone could imagine.

He gaped and enthused: "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

His face glowed with delight as the myriad jets, all individually programmed, danced with oscillating force in time to the music, while a hundred coloured lights, ever-changing, painted the mood on airborne water.

Still standing beside him, the hermit said, in English: "Still waters run deep." With that he moved off to settle in his old spot in the gallery.

When the concert had ended the Woodcarver went across to drop a coin in the man's hat, by way of thanks. As if the money had been inserted in a jukebox, the hermit began to sing "An Aspect of the Sun".

I sought it here, I sought it there
I sought in heaven and in hell
To catch a glimpse, to know the taste
The all elusive smell.
In sooth Joy Finzi with the master's touch
Alludes to it, alludes to it
A whiff, ahaa! A wisp, ahaa!
C'est ça, c'est ça.

(and now Joy Finzi's inimitable words)

"What is truth my darling
Where is truth my dear?
It is an aspect of the sun
And the shadow beneath the weir.
What is love my dearest
Where can it be found?
It is the warmth by which we live
And as dew upon the ground."

By the time they reached Hungary, the company was one marionette richer. His name was Case and he was dressed in hessian rags. Yin-Yin was sent by the others to take a whiff of him, because they all had their doubts, but when she reported that he did not stink, they accepted him, the more so when it became clear that he was not just any old hermit, but a wise hermit.

In Budapest they walked upon The Chain Bridge - "the most beautiful in the whole wide world" according to Yin-Yin - were out-played by a six-year-old Sinti violinist, and generally had a good time before heading west-south-west.

"Wasn't that gypsy depressing?" complained Victimus.

"Which one?" asked Maqina.

"Not depressing. Inspiring," corrected King Sigurd.

"Which one!" demanded Maqina.

"He's referring to the child prodigy," said the Woodcarver. "He must have been born clutching a violin."

"I'm hungary," said Maqina, his attention span not being the longest. "Please can you get me chips and a cola-"

"You, young man, will have your growth stunted if you eat junk food. I refuse to get you anything but linseed oil. And that's final. And it's hungry, not hungary. Hungary is a country," said the Woodcarver, suddenly feeling peckish himself.

He pulled in at the next service station, topped up with petrol, then scoured the mini-market for something - anything - that wasn't 97 per cent synthetic. An apple perhaps? Fresh milk? Nothing. Even the mammaries bulging from the girly magazines were of silicone. The cashier scowled when he did not pay with plastic: she had to divert her eyes from the television to count his change. On the screen a synthetic blonde with trussed-up cleavage was reading the news from a prompt just above the viewer's head so she could fake eye contact.

"Yetch!" belched the Woodcarver when he finally escaped this brave new world. Still, it inspired him - if that is the right word - to carve his next marionette. What emerged, some time later, was a dumb platinum blonde appropriately named Miss Quote, peering vacantly from her own television screen as she read the news.

"...Which the Minister of Licences and Licensing insists is the very last warning he is giving offenders before incarcerating them. And now, the weather forecast: every silver lining will have a dark cloud attached to it, so weh!"

"Oh blow it out the other end, for pity's sake," Gall shot at her, and for emphasis raised his middle finger.

Miss Quote dropped a stitch, then started to sing bravely, even defiantly, the song entitled "Miss Quote's Quote", hardly turning a hair when Gall butted in from time to time.

I'm a platinum blonde with a nice coiffure
A young mondaine with hauteur
I am very proper and oh so prim
As from a cut glass I sip a pink gin.

What does it matter if it's only lies?
In a lull we have to improvise
News to make the ratings rise
Hence gurus, sex and mass suicides.

I am paid vast sums to read the news
Occasionally I air my views
Can it really be a mortal sin
For Miss Quote to indulge a little whim?

What does it matter if it's only lies?
In a lull we have to improvise
News to make the ratings rise
Hence gurus, sex and mass suicides.

Gall: Thwart dynamic change, reign duality
She gleaned from the fossils at the Wee Wee Cee
Quote: In deep respect, I genuflect
Before a body so politically correct.

What does it matter if it's only lies?
In a lull we have to improvise
News to make the ratings rise
Hence gurus, sex and mass suicides.

Gall: Hearken hapless studio guest
Concur with her, or flunk the test
She will ride roughshod, she will mangle and mince
All who demur, from a pauper to a prince.

What does it matter if it's only lies?
In a lull we have to improvise
News to make the ratings rise
Hence gurus, sex and mass suicides.

I yearn so much for a little recognition
To be centre stage for the next edition
I will stop at nothing, I'll invoke sedition
Even if it means I'm condemned to perdition.

What does it matter if it's only lies?
In a lull we have to improvise
News to make the ratings rise
Hence gurus, sex and mass suicides.

"What's the Wee Wee Cee?" enquired Maqina.

"A pissoir," replied Gall.

"It's not!" snapped Miss Quote angrily. And in a reverent tone: "W.W.C. stands for World Wide Corporation, the media giant."

"W.C. more likely!" exclaimed Gall triumphantly. "And what do those buggers do, except shoot sh-"

"Mind your tongue, you twisted old has-been-"

"Children, children!" called the Woodcarver. "Calm yourselves."

The Czarina checked her compass and altered course from west-south-west to south-south-west, gritted her teeth for the task ahead, and started the run-up to the Alps. She had chosen to join one of the main arteries over the mighty mountain range by way of a minor road with seemingly endless S-bends. It was tough on her, but she battled bravely on, even when the noises emanating from her insides became quite alarming. Everyone inside was silently praying, willing the noble Russian on. A grating noise became a grinding noise, and the grinding noise became a death rattle, culminating, finally, in the expulsion of a great cloud of black smoke that signalled her demise. It had been a range too far.

The Woodcarver slumped with his head against the wheel. The shelling had stopped. In the deathly quiet you could almost hear the footsteps of a black crow hopping across the white snow at the side of the road.

Stranded in the Alps with little money, the Woodcarver was at his wit's end. Sunk deep in despair, he remained motionless for what seemed a very long time. At last, like the Snowman thawing, he slowly girded his loins.

Having tramped across a field, the Woodcarver returned an hour later in a tractor, alongside a farmer. They hooked up the mortally ill patient and towed her to a cluster of farm buildings. Dressed in greasy overalls, the good man bent over the engine, where the Woodcarver joined him under the raised bonnet and tried to look knowledgeable. The farmer shook his head slowly and muttered "mon Dieu". Assuming the expression of a surgeon bringing relatives the worst news possible, he drew a finger across his throat. The Woodcarver held back a tear.

The farmer was fittingly grave as he and the Woodcarver drank the coffee the man's wife had brewed, then brightened as he had an idea. He led the way to the back of one of the farm's sheds and pointed.

"The King is dead. Long live the King!" The saying crossed the Woodcarver's mind as he saw a possible solution to his predicament, for there, partly under a stack of hay, protruded the snub nose of an ancient, red, corrugated iron van. He walked around it, and through the open back door he saw the roomy interior, now the home of tiers of brooding chickens.

He stuck his head bravely into this coop, the better to examine it, while the farmer went to attend to a cow grazing in the wrong pasture.

"What make is she?" he asked. Receiving no reply, he presumed a language problem and called: "Name. What name? Nom."

"Violetta!" the farmer called loudly, addressing the cow and shooing her away.

"Violetta? What a pretty name," the Woodcarver mused. "Would you, Violetta, like to join King Sigurd's Magic Mirror Marionette Theatre?"

A rooster protested that he knew of reasons why this union should not be concluded, but a rooster's call is only heeded at dawn.

Violetta thus left the farmstead a day later, having been greased and oiled and coaxed back into life.

"And we didn't have to pay much," said the Woodcarver as he waved to the dwindling figures of the farmer and his wife. Just before he lost sight of them at a bend in the track, he thought he saw a couple of chickens inspecting the Czarina with quite some interest. "Ah well, not a bad place to sit out her retirement," he thought.

"Nor did you get much!" exclaimed Maqina, "besides chicken compost."

Violetta joined the highway and turned north.

"Hey, where you going!" called Maqina. "Why can't you go south in this-"

"Night cart," threw in Miss Quote. "Because it pongs to high heaven!"

"What's a night cart?" asked Maqina.

"A shit buggy," said Gall.


"It's something from the olden days," said the Woodcarver. "Look, Maqina, Violetta needs a lot of work done to her. Okay, she needs to be scrubbed down and disinfected, but that's the least of it. There are mechanical things to be attended to, so I'm afraid we'll have to go back to Amsterdam-"

"But we don't have to go to Amsterdam to do that."

"That's where my contacts are, so it's cheaper. Anyway, that isn't all. I want to fit Violetta out as a camper. It takes a lot of energy to hunt down the local swimming pool in every town we come to just so I can go through the S's-"


"Shit, shave, shower and shampoo."


"And another thing. It's too tight a squeeze fitting you all into the rucksack. One of these days someone's going to get injured. So. I'm going to build us a big cart with pneumatic tyres-" He turned to Maqina: "Tyres with air in so they're nice and springy-"

"Cool man!"

"-And with a pretty picture on the front of the cart so it becomes our decor, and... and... wait for it... a decent sound system so we can be heard even in really noisy places. So you see, my dear Maqina, it's one step back, then three steps forward. In no time you'll be waving at Africa."


Violetta was parked in the street in front of Johanna's house, near the Amstel River. Her husband Dirk was sitting with the Woodcarver in the back of the van, which they were busy fitting out. On the verandah Angelique, the giggly young waitress, could be seen painting a castle on the front panel of a cart.

Dirk was holding a small motorcycle battery in his hands, with cables dangling from crocodile clamps. "We'll mount this on top of the regular battery, in series, and that way she'll charge up while you're travelling. You'll get quite a few hours of playing time on your sound system."

"Dirk, you're a genius."

"Coffee, everyone!" Johanna called as she emerged from the house with a laden tray.

They sat on the verandah and the steps, relaxing as the Woodcarver talked of his plans.

"...But you said you weren't ready to play Amsterdam yet," Johanna interrupted him.

"I know, I know. But I have to test everything before hitting the road. The cart, the sound system. Besides, I need to earn money. After lashing out on all this-" he waved an arm, "-I'm broke. Nearly. Look, I'll find a quiet place."

"If you don't stick to the designated spots, you could have trouble from the police," warned Dirk.

"Ach, Dirk, the Dutch police are schatjes. You know their reputation for tolerance," said Johanna.

"I hope she was right," the Woodcarver thought to himself as he prepared for his first performance with the new equipment a few days later. He had located a small square at the Spui Street entrance to another square, the historic Begijnhof. The puppets were arranged around the castle, waiting while he tested the sound system with "The Sun Behind the Sun".

You are the sun behind the sun, you are the sun
You are the sun behind the sun, you are the moon
You are the moon behind the moon, you are the moon
You are the moon behind the moon, you are the sun....

Scratching sounds could be heard as he fiddled with the radio microphone clipped to his shirt front. At last he got the balance right, smiled with satisfaction, and launched King Sigurd into his dance routine. Yet they were scarcely warmed up when he caught sight of something in the middle distance that alarmed him: two police officers, a man and a woman (his hair was shoulder length) approached on huge horses.

"Oh my god! Wave, Your Majesty," he urged sotto voce, "wave like your life depends on it."

The king had spotted the danger. Now he was no slouch. Boy, did he rattle 'm bones. The approaching police tried to maintain the stern look of authority, but in the face of this friendly confrontation the woman succumbed to His Majesty's charms. She blushed, then burst into a big smile as she turned to her companion. Being a young male, it was harder for him, but he, too, was touched. He shrugged, then with a giddy-up squeeze of the knees, they moved on.

"Whew! Well done," exclaimed the Woodcarver.

From that point on, zing went the strings of the marionettes, allowing them to touch the hearts of spectators. Not all of them, of course. Probably not the hearts of the rowdy group of young male tourists the Woodcarver spotted on a bench in the distance, drinking. Still, to have had such a trouble-free session in the heart of the capital was a turn-up for the books, so they celebrated this by singing "The Universe is Singing a Song".

The universe is singing a song
The universe is dancing along
The universe is singing on a day
Like this...

And it's high time to dance
And it's high time to sing
And it's high time to dance
So wake up and dance.

The mother of a ten-year-old boy with cerebral palsy pushed his wheelchair to the front of the crowd. The moment he and King Sigurd spotted one another, they were in rapport. His Majesty advanced on the lad, pulling the Woodcarver along with him. The boy gurgled and drooled, his arms flying about in spastic movements. He was getting overexcited. His mother rubbed his head to soothe him. The crowd fell silent. The music had stopped but the Woodcarver did not even notice, he was so focussed on what he was doing. Attention was rivetted on the unfolding drama.

Suddenly all eyes shot upwards, following the movement of someone leaping through the air. King Sigurd dropped out of the sky and landed on the small swivel shelf fixed to the wheelchair, bang in front of the boy. There was a collective intake of breath. The boy rolled his eyes. Strange, high-pitched sounds were now mingling with the gurgling. The mother was torn between joy and fear - fear that her son might break the fragile wooden marionette. But the king was made of sterner stuff! With biblical trust he reached out his right hand for the boy to shake.

The lad focussed. All his resources were now concentrated on coordinating mind and muscle. His little body contorted with the effort. His hand shot forward - too far to the right. It shot forward again - too far to the left. He paused, regrouping. His face screwed up some more. Then his hand shot forward to within a millimetre of His Majesty's outstretched, unmoving arm. The crowd gasped involuntarily, fearing the worst, but the boy had now reached the eye of his own private storm. In a near-normal move his hand closed gently, oh so lovingly, around that of the king.

The crowd exploded into relieved and appreciative applause. In an awkward hug, the mother pressed her hand against her son's chest, and her face to his cheek. He gurgled with pride, for he had scored one over his illness. With her other hand the mother wiped the dripping saliva from the corner of his mouth.

It was early evening when the company called it a day. The Woodcarver, basking in the little miracle he had been a part of, packed the puppets into their protective covers with loving care and lowered them into the cart's belly. He cradled the last puppet, King Sigurd, in both arms and murmured: "Thank you, thank you."

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a man's hand shot into their private moment, stopping perilously close to the king. Kettle drums banged the alarm in the Woodcarver's head as one of the rowdy young tourists he had spotted earlier put on a spastic act, in imitation of the boy. He was drunk, and when he spoke - slurred - he revealed a broad Australian accent. Behind him his friends, not quite as drunk, laughed at his antics and, in north-country accents, indulged in ribaldry.

"Give ush a hand, mate," demanded the Aussie, then more forcefully, "I shed give ush a hand, mate!"

"Come on, Bruce baby. That's enough now," one of the English tried to humour him.

"Don' I getsh the shame treatment as the shpastic? Hey?"

As unobtrusively as possible, the Woodcarver put the cover on the king and was about to lower him into the cart when the Aussie struck. Again his hand shot forward, this time lunging at the Woodcarver's stomach. It stopped in the folds of his white shirt and to his horror, the Woodcarver saw the light glint off the metal of a corkscrew.

The English drunks were suddenly all over the Aussie, pulling him back, though it did not stop him from screaming: "Bloody poofter! Men don't play with dolls! Not real men."

Gingerly, the Woodcarver's fingers pulled up his shirt to expose the flesh. It bore a long, raw scratch, the surface of the skin just broken in places.

One of the Englishmen stepped forward and enquired nervously: "You all right?"

Still in shock, he did not answer at first, then slowly nodded his head, whereupon the party quickly moved off. He stood, numb, beside the cart, while the man's words rang in his ears: "Men don't play with dolls!"


Inside the clubhouse of the Icarus Skydiving Club a few people, mostly men, sat at tables littered with cups. The Woodcarver entered, a parachute slung over one shoulder. Looking neither right nor left, he marched through the room.

"Hey! Look who's risen from the dead. Haven't seen you for many a year," someone called from a table.

"Want to take over my old rig for a song? No strings attached! Ha ha ha," quipped another.

The Woodcarver left through a door which opened onto the runway.

"He used to laugh at that. Wonder what's eating him?"

The Woodcarver stood in the aircraft's open doorway and peered down at the ground, four kilometres below. There was a light breeze, judging by the angle at which smoke blew from chimneys, so when just upwind of the drop zone he leapt. As he did so, a mighty roar of pent-up rage burst from him. As it faded, it was replaced by the sound of rushing air and, as he revolved, pirouetted, somersaulted and finally arched again, the sound in his head of the song "Dying to Live".

If you are dying to live
Then play your trump
Skydive and make
A quantum jump.

Leap ere you look
For when death is nigh
Believe it or not
That's the ultimate high.

Dying to live
In joy repleet
Skydive and make
That quantum leap.

You must sever the cord
If you're to cross the chasm
That separates you
From the cosmic orgasm.

Dying to live
In joy repleet
Skydive and make
That quantum leap.

Divinely drunk
The senses enhancing
Dwell in this magical
World of skydancing.

Dying to live
In joy repleet
Skydive and make
That quantum leap.

In candyfloss castles
You safely can die
And meet yourself
Eye to eye.

Dying to live
In joy repleet
Skydive and make
That quantum leap.

In a paradigm shift
In timeless suspension
You now find yourself
In the Fourth Dimension.

Dying to live
In joy repleet
Skydive and make
That quantum leap.

No longer stuck
To paper like flies
Returning home

Dying to live
In joy repleet
Skydive and make
That quantum leap.

He lay sprawled on his back, his head propped up on his container, while the canopy lay spread out on the grass. He chewed on the stem of a flower protruding from his mouth.

One of the chaps from the clubhouse sidled over. "The fix working?" he asked.

The Woodcarver beamed a contented smile at him.


Violetta's engine throbbed with a healthy beat. The Woodcarver sat behind the wheel, searching for a way to thank his friends. Partings were not his strong point. He looked at Johanna and Dirk and Angelique standing beside the brand new old van.

"You guys, how do I thank you?" he said helplessly.

"By sending us postcards of all the nice places you visit-" began Dirk.

"He means all the warm places," said Johanna.

"And the new clothes. All these beautiful new clothes for my ever-growing family." He held up a puppet-size, double-breasted, striped jacket from a gent's suit. "Oh Johanna. And the castle. Angelique, you are an angel. You're all angels."

The puppets looked on wide-eyed as the humans now performed the strange ritual of kissing the air next to one another's cheeks to the accompaniment of smacking sounds.

"Not now," the Woodcarver silenced Maqina, who was tugging at his sleeve for an explanation.

"Bon voyage!"


And off they went, heading straight for the gates of hell. Though of course they did not know it at the time.


In the shadow of the towering steeple of Cologne Cathedral lay Maqina, atop the Castle Cart - as it was now referred to. He and the Woodcarver were locked in a desperate struggle for supremacy in their arm-wrestling match, much to the amusement of onlookers. The bigger man should have won easily, one would have thought, but no, it was the plucky youth who, slowly but inexorably, was gaining the upper hand. Throwing his all into it, Maqina slammed his opponent's wrist against the deck.

"Yiiiaaaaaa!" came his victory cry.

It was a popular win, judging by the number of coins that tinkled into the centabakje. Maqina did a victory round, shadow-boxing with a few spectators and once kicking a child's ball back to him.

While this scene played itself out, something altogether more ominous was brewing in another part of town. In an unattractive office with lockers lining one wall, two faceless men of stunted sensibilities were preparing to carry out orders passed down from higher authority.

Strong, hairy hands clipped a row of pens into a suit jacket's top pocket. A third hand held out a pair of scissors, which the two hairy hands took and placed in an inside pocket. Next - continuing the ritual of the matador and his dresser - they received a small, thick pad - the kind traffic police write out tickets on - opened it at a clean page, fixed an elastic band around it, and placed it in a side pocket. Locker doors were slammed, then two sets of footsteps rang out loudly, militarily.

In the shopping mall that led off the cathedral square, King Sigurd's Magic Mirror Marionette Theatre continued to delight the crowd, oblivious to the impending danger. Marching as to war, those legs cut a swathe through the throng of pedestrians. They had in their sights an old hippie guitarist, eyes closed as he was transported to another world by the beauty of the lyrics of "Where have all the flowers gone?" With practised hand, the axe fell. In one smooth action the scissors, jaws wide, cut through all six strings at once. The sickening twang wrenched the old crooner back into this cruel world. He saw before him the heavy shoes, the suited legs, and the scissors dangling from a hairy hand.

"We warned you last week. No playing here without a permit."

"But it takes weeks to get one!"


"But I gotta eat!"

"Not my problem. And count yourself lucky. Next time we take the guitar."

And off they went, left, right, left, right.... The old hippie stood up and clicked his heels.

"Ja, obersturmfuhrer, nein obersturmfuhrer, three bags full obersturmfuhrer. Bastards!"

Not far away, little King Sigurd ran on the spot in the eccentric action of a pole-vaulter at the start of his run-up, then leapt in the air and did a back flip. Landing first on his hands, he then propelled himself upwards again with mind-boggling agility, to land on his feet.

"Beat that!" he appeared to say, raised his top hat, and took a deep bow to enthusiastic applause. It was then, while still bent over, that a black hole swallowed up all joy. A black hole in the shape of two ogres looming large, the one with unsavoury hairy hands....

When the Woodcarver, some time later, introduced Mr. Smother to the company, he had quite a job keeping Gall from ramming the bell on his right winkle-picker up the newcomer's nose. He also managed to stop Maqina from biffing the oaf, but the youngster then resorted to psychological warfare: he got a copy shop to print a portrait of the civil servant on cloth, which he then stitched onto his punch bag. To add injury to insult, he painted in a black eye.

Yes, Mr. Smother was a running sore. Still, the Woodcarver waved aside all petitions to ban Smother from the troupe, saying it took all types to make up this world.

Talking of types, Mr. Smother took some beating. He had a misshapen head that was evidence of a breach birth, with complications. It was topped with mousy-coloured coir for hair, done with a middle parting. Affixed haphazardly to this ill-wrought head were cauliflower ears. The eyes were deeply recessed, one of them bloodshot and half the size of the other, again a legacy of the obstetrician's fumbling forceps. His nose, large as the prow of a war canoe, was blotched and blotted with carbuncles and warts. His thin-lipped mouth was turned down so far that the corners ran under his chin. Stuck to his lower lip with spit, was a cigarette butt that had almost become a permanent fixture. His neck, when he was not on the warpath, was drawn into his shoulders like that of a retreating turtle's.

He was dressed in a grey striped double-breasted suit that he wore like a uniform, with ill-matching shirt and loud tie. His boots were made for stomping, stomping all over you. Like an extension of his right arm, he gripped a huge official stamp which he wielded like a bludgeon. Hence the name of Mr. Smother's theme song: "Stamp Stamp".

Woodcarver: One way or another
We come up against old Smother
The misbegotten product
Of his father and his mother.

Smother: Stamp stamp, all day long
Stamp stamp, that's my song
Stamp stamp, right or wrong
Stamp stamp, bing bang bong.

Smother: Stamp out this blight
Or gone is our might.
Woodcarver: Said the misbegotten misanthrope
Convinced this was his right.

All: Stamp stamp, all day long
Stamp stamp, that's my song
Stamp stamp, right or wrong
Stamp stamp, bing bang bong.

Yin-Yin: Underfoot we're trodden
When voices half forgotten
We try to raise against the man
The man who's misbegotten.

All: Stamp stamp, all day long
Stamp stamp, that's my song
Stamp stamp, right or wrong
Stamp stamp, bing bang bong.

What they needed to do was to put as much distance between themselves and those dark souls in Cologne as they could.

"There. That's done it," exclaimed the Woodcarver as they crossed the border into Switzerland.

Yin-Yin was not that sure. She had been consulting her astrology charts and now looked decidedly glum. Still, she said nothing, not wanting to upset the others. Privately, she wished she had the power to change the coarse of one or two planets, especially Mars, the troublesome planet of war.

So they travelled hopefully and arrived in Zurich, flat broke and urgently needing to earn some money. They had just set themselves up on a busy shopping street when it began to snow. Outside a jeweller's shop hung a large clock which alternately gave the time and the temperature. It was minus seven centigrade. Yet the troupe soldiered bravely on.

The Woodcarver blinked as the flakes stuck to his eyelids, his brows, moustache and beard, turning them white.

"Hi, Father Christmas!" called King Sigurd, and waved encouragingly.

It was the continuous movement of his fingers rather than the gloves he now wore, that kept his hands warm. His feet, however, were already numb. Though he moved his weight from one foot to the other, the cold kept creeping up from the ground.

He was not seeing all that well, the snowflakes on his lashes distorting things. How strange that a grey rectangle should have appeared under his nose. He took one hand off the controls to wipe his face, then saw that the rectangle was an identity document of sorts. His eyes followed the hand holding it, till it connected to one of two men looming large. They had been pressed from the same mould as the men in Cologne. The thicker one wore a suit two sizes too small for him; the thinner man wore one two sizes too big for him. It might have been funny, had they not been so heartless.

"By the power invested in me, I order you to take your, humph, things und get raus!" barked Thick.

The Woodcarver looked to the heavens, the heavens that were snowing on him.

"Am I really such a threat to law and order-" he began.

"It is the law!" shouted Thin. "A law passed by ministers in our Government. Raus! Raus!"

And would you believe it, they followed him all the way to Violetta and waited till he drove off?

"We were lucky," said King Sigurd, once they were under way. "In other times we might have been frogmarched out of town."

They were having a really bad run of luck. Like fugitives, they desperately sought a safe haven.

"Italy," announced the Woodcarver. "Yes indeed. The Italians have a relaxed, Mediterranean attitude towards life. We'll go there to get away from the likes of this lot." He jerked a thumb at the line-up of the Ministers of Government, the four new marionettes, who just then ruined their descent from the Dolomites by bursting into "The Polytician Tango".

Crier: The Minister of Monopolies, Multi-Nationals & Avarice, the Honourable Hal. I Tosis...
We are sly as we vie for a slice of the pie
In greed we cry, "Live and let die."

Hee ho hum, I know it's pretty rum
But for every little favour, kiss my bum.

Crier: The Minister of Sickness, Plague & Pharmaceuticals, the Honourable Dr. Rumble Gut...
Wiles and weal, we treat not heal
If disease does not kill you, the cure sure will.

Hee ho hum, I know it's pretty rum
But for every little favour, kiss my bum.

Crier: The Minister of War, Justice & of Sport, the Honourable General Smelly Foot...
I adore a war with guns that roar
Rivers of blood and masses of gore.

Hee ho hum, I know it's pretty rum
But for every little favour, kiss my bum.

Crier: The Minister of Concessions & Permits, & of Art, the Honourable Mr. Flop Flaccid...
Money will flow to those who know
How to make ratings burgeon and grow.

Hee ho hum, I know it's pretty rum
But for every little favour, kiss my bum.

Gall: Lend Hal I. Tosis your ears as he explains his use of kindness- to kill competition...
We always heed those in need
Then put them in our pocket to enforce our creed.

Hee ho hum, I know it's pretty rum
But for every little favour, kiss my bum.

Gall: While the allopaths close ranks, hearken ye as Dr. Rumble Gut rants...
From the stress we're under it is no wonder
That we bungle and botch, butcher and blunder.

Hee ho hum, I know it's pretty rum
But for every little favour, kiss my bum.

Gall: Old Smelly Foot, known to his troops as GENeral O'Cide, will now pontificate on "Fighting for Peace"...
We'll dress it up nice, all sugar and spice
Call in "Mission Immaculate to Root out Vice".

Hee ho hum, I know it's pretty rum
But for every little favour, kiss my bum.

Gall: There may not be much life before death, but hear ye as Flop Flaccid prepares for life after death...
Like sentries standing guard, we'll line every yard
With our busts in bronze on the grandest boulevard.

Hee ho hum, I know it's pretty rum
But for every little favour, kiss my bum.


"Oooh! All these rudies, yuk!" cried Miss Quote.

For a moment the Woodcarver thought she had been compromised by a flasher or a bottom pincher, but no, she was staring up at the magnificence of Michelangelo's David in Florence.

"Humph," sneered Gall. "Pearls before swine."

"Those are decidedly not pearls up there," she retorted.

The Woodcarver unpacked the miniature organ and the king's small deckchair, and suspended various marionettes from hooks on the castle cart. A curious crowd gathered. On went the music, and to the strains of "I Love You" His Majesty got their act rolling. No sooner were they under way, than something appeared to go wrong with the sound. A discordant note had entered, something sounding distinctly like "vroom vroom".

It was "vroom vroom" indeed, coming not from their sound system but from a mega motorcycle. Astride it sat one of Mussolini's Brownshirts. He and his bronco had leapt straight out of Dante's Inferno to come to a screeching halt between players and public. His extreme arrogance could be explained by his stunted growth. This diminutive cop swung from his mount and only just managed to rest the huge bike on its stand without flooring it, pulled a "ticket" book from a pocket and with an expansive movement swung his jackboot onto the footrest so his thigh formed a table to write on. The Woodcarver's jaw dropped. The spectators wilted in impotence.

"Passoporte!" demanded this despicable dwarf, and without even looking up from his "ticket" book, he thrust out an arm for the identification papers.


They tried the floating city. "See Venice and die" went the saying. They almost did. They crossed back to Tuscany. Three days of paper work awaited them in San Gimignano.

"What the hell's wrong with Italy?" demanded the Woodcarver.

"It's not Italy, it's not the Italians. It's people," said King Sigurd. "Give a man a stick, and he will beat you with it."

Miss Quote was not part of the discussion; she was daydreaming and singing quietly to herself. "How would you like to be, down by the Seine with me? Under the bridges of Paris with you, I'll make your dreams come true."

The Woodcarver sighed deeply. "If we're going to be kicked around, I guess Paris is as good a place as any."

Hoo boy! Does history repreat itself: and how it does! The Woodcarver had scarcely begun to unpack the castle cart, there on the terrace above the Trocadero Gardens, when he sensed something out of the corner of his eye. His head jerked up and there loomed a gendarme, blocking his view of the Eiffel Tower. Then another loomed, and another. He was surrounded. Under their watchful eye, he was forced to pack up again and advised to go and make a nuisance of himself somewhere on the fringes of the earth, not at its very centre.

Dragging his cart disconsulately behind him, he noticed a young Senegalese approach a group of tourists. Alert as a cat in a corner, the young black man whipped open his long overcoat to reveal twenty or so pouches containing postcards with different views of Paris. He quickly sold a few, closed his coat, and for all the world was once again just another tourist himself. It bemused the Woodcarver.

Having loaded the cart into Violetta, he returned to the lawns beside the Eiffel Tower, where he joined a group of Senegalese and two white musicians.

"...Three policemen! That's heavy man."

"That's right," said the Woodcarver. "Heavier even than back in Florence where they had me investigated for possible Mafia connections. I've heard of the Mafia being in the laundry business, but puppetry?"

"The world has gone mad," said the girl, clasping her flute.

"Then they say I have to have a permit. Everywhere they say that. I tried once playing it by the rules. Do you know how long it took in this one town, I forget where it was? Two weeks! In two weeks you can be dead from hunger."

"Two weeks is nothing. We waited four months once," put in someone.

"Brother, you must have been very dead by then."

They all laughed.

"Well of course we kept playing, but in quiet spots, and always looking over our shoulders."

"Their madness is... boundless," said the girl, coming from another space. "The cripple does not want to see the dancer dance."

"They got the heavy guns, so you don' confront them, like," said another of the Senegalese. "You sidestep."

"You get smart. Yeah man, you get smart. I saw this guy once, a really great acrobat doing his thing by this fountain with all them sculptures when the fuzz arrives. Now your average dude would react, well, in the average way. But not our hero. True, he started running, b u t - i n - s l o w - m o t i o n. It confused the hell out of 'em."

"What did they do?"

"Nothing. They couldn't. They just stood there confused, kinda nailed to the spot. It wasn't in the manual, see?"

Following this conversation, the Woodcarver decided he needed to change tactics. He had a word with King Sigurd, who agreed.

"If you're not strong, you've got to be clever," he confirmed.

So the Woodcarver devised a really clever construction. King Sigurd was secured to a harness fixed to the Woodcarver's chest, the top half of his body protruding from an enlarged shirt pocket. The Woodcarver's right arm remained under his shirt and controlled the marionette like a glove puppet. The right sleeve of his shirt, meanwhile, was stuffed with a dummy arm and gloved hand, which was hooked into the belt of his trousers, nice and casual. His left hand held the "centabakje" for collecting money.

Concealed on his person was a tiny cassette players and mini speakers. His old top hat made way for a chapeau bras, the type of top hat that can fold up flat. Thus equipped, he set out to do battle with the Paris gendarmerie.

He descended into the bowels of the earth to step into a metro train, and once aboard switched on his cassette player. His Majesty gripped his own little microphone tightly in one hand and sang "Till the Singer is the Song".

Disappearing is a wonderful feeling
Sing out loud, sing out strong.
Disappearing is a wonderful feeling
Sing till the singer is the song...

And the same for the dance
Here again there is the chance
For the dancer to advance
And be the dance....

Delighted commuters up and down the carriage leaned across to deposit their coins in the centabakje.

As the train drew into a station, the Woodcarver scanned the platform. Suddenly he removed his hat, folded it flat, closed his cape over the puppet, and merged with the other commuters. The train stopped and he disembarked, brushing past two gendarmes who were boarding the train he had just left. He crossed the platform and entered another train that had pulled in. As the doors closed, he activated the lever which allowed the flattened hat to spring to its full size. He placed it on his head and looked out at the train he had recently left, and smiled a little victory smile.

One of the policemen nudged his colleague's elbow and pointed at the Woodcarver. Hurriedly they tried to open the doors, but it was too late: their train had started moving. In frustration they banged on the glass and glowered. King Sigurd waved sweetly at them.

Triumphant but weary, the soulmates mounted the stairs leading from the metro station that night, stepped into the pedestrian throng... and right into the path of a man in chef's clothing carrying what looked like a wicker cat's basket. It went flying, the lid sprang open, and out leaped not cats, but live frogs. Seven million of them, or so it seemed, and they scurried off into the night like aristocrats fleeing the guillotine. But Robespierre had not given up the fight: he lunged at a straggler, swinging wildly with his meat cleaver.

The Woodcarver stood staring, not down, but up, where a well-lit signboard screamed for attention: there, graphically depicted, was a smiling frog absolutely delighted at the prospect of having his legs chopped off. "Frogs' Legs - speciality of the house" boasted the restaurant.


The little band of players, battered by the hurly-burly of big city life, sought refuge in the country. When they played small towns, instead of being kicked from pillar to post, they were welcomed with open arms, which was balm for their spirits.

The relaxed pace of rural life was important too for the full recovery of Jean-Phillipe de Chantepie, the froggy with no leggies at all. Yin-Yin the Wise had taken him under her wing, applying her special blend of therapy. She encouraged him to give voice to his feelings, thereby cleansing him of the trauma he had suffered in Paris. Sitting in the little wheelchair the Woodcarver had made for him, he was doing just that now, with ample encouragement from his new friends.

"Get me as far away from those fiendish French carnivores as is animally possible. Mon dieu! They wave about high-sounding slogans like liberté, egalité, fraternité but it seems some are more equal than others." He was working himself into a state, he knew it, and now made a conscious effort to calm himself by chanting his mantra. "Ancient pond. Frog jumps in. Plop. Ancient pond. Frog jumps in. Plop. Ancient pond. Frog jumps in...."

"If they ever try that again, I'll biff 'em. Knockout," said Maqina.

"Would you like us to sing your song, Jean-Phillipe?" enquired Yin-Yin. "It always cheers you up. Hmm?"

"Yes. I'd like that."

And so they sang "Froggie With No Leggies At All".

Jean-Phillips de Chantepie
The froggie with no leggies at all
The champion of the animal cause
The champion of them all.

Jean-Phillipe de Chantepie
A veteran of the French campaign
They cut off his legs with a very sharp knife
And served them up with the best Champagne.

Jean-Phillips de Chantepie
The froggie with no leggies at all
The champion of the animal cause
The champion of them all.

Jean-Phillipe de Chantepie
My goodness could he leap
The record was within his grasp
But now to see him makes you weep.

Jean-Phillips de Chantepie
The froggie with no leggies at all
The champion of the animal cause
The champion of them all.

Jean-Phillipe de Chantepie
Is now a member of the press
Recounting tales bitter and sad
Of all his colleagues in distress.

Jean-Phillips de Chantepie
The froggie with no leggies at all
The champion of the animal cause
The champion of them all.

Jean-Phillipe de Chantepie
You'll never succeed in changing the minds
Nor habits nor customs of the cruel
Super species they call mankind.

Jean-Phillips de Chantepie
The froggie with no leggies at all
The champion of the animal cause
The champion of them all.

Jean-Phillipe de Chantepie
Said: "Here is a challenge that I will meet
For one who has been completely de-legged
There isn't a chance of another de-feet."

Jean-Phillips de Chantepie
The froggie with no leggies at all
The champion of the animal cause
The champion of them all.

Jean-Phillips de Chantepie
On and on he plods
Appealing to the better side
Of all us human clods.

Jean-Phillips de Chantepie
The froggie with no leggies at all
The champion of the animal cause
The champion of them all.

The company drifted about the countryside, licking its wounds and building up its strength again. Following one's heart was not necessarily plain sailing.

"The very nature of life - its beauty even - is challenge," philosophized Yin-Yin.

"At least you're not shackled to a desk," added King Sigurd.

"Free as the birds," put in Maqina.

"If," said Gall, pausing for emphasis, "if one can steer clear of them and their sort." He jerked a thumb in the direction of the four ministers and their lackey, Mr. Smother.

It was early evening as Violetta wound her way through a forest and then pulled up at a lookout point, to take a breather.

"Where are we?" asked Maqina.

"Why, we're in Heidelberg, of course," replied Yin-Yin, sounding fey.


The picture postcard the Woodcarver had once seen, materialised before them: there was the old castle on the hill, the old bridge over the Neckar, the old town with the famous university. A warm glow infused his body.

Having parked in a side street in the centre of Heidelberg, the Woodcarver wrapped a thick scarf around his neck and buttoned up his warm coat.

"Be good," he called to the little folk. "I'm just going to recce the joint."

It was December and festive lights dazzled the eyes, nowhere more than at the Christmas market in the main square. The Woodcarver ambled along, relishing the sights. Up ahead, in the main shopping promenade, the crowd was at its densest. People were clustered around a candelabrum, with the flames of the candles flickering in the lightest of breezes. As he got closer, he could distinguish a grey top hat just below the candelabrum, then the top of an upright piano became visible. At last he caught sight of the pianist under the hat. There, plumb in the middle of that throng, was a young man in tails playing a piece by Schumann. About him, in that haven of harmony, hovered the hushed crowd. For anyone with eyes to see, here was the essence of man's spiritual nature.

When he was done, there was complete silence. They had put their hands together in the motion of clapping, but made nary a sound. Instinctively, they knew not to break the spell.

At last the pianist turned to his audience, addressing them in a Scottish brogue thicker than haggis.

"Entschuldigen sie mir, bitte. That last bit was not what it should have been, but my fingers were slipping. There is ice on the keys."

The crowd surged forward and dropped their money in his now upturned top hat. When the rush was over he closed the lid, blew out the candles, and pushed the piano - which was on wheels - to a van parked just off the promenade, and placed a ramp in position. The Woodcarver approached him.

"Hi. I'm a street artiste too. Marionettes. When you get your butt kicked time and time again, you wonder why you ever left the comfortable numbness of an office job. Then I see something like this-" he gestured the piano, the pianist, the street, "-and I know, this is what a better world would look like. I salute you."


The Woodcarver stood in a quiet street in a residential part of town. Examining a piece of paper in his hand, he looked up at the doorway of a terraced house, then stepped forward and rang the bell. There came the sound of the intercom being activated.

"Ja?" queried a man's voice.

"Hello. Guten abend. I'm looking for Yatri. Do I have the right house?"

"Who is this?" the voice asked cautiously.

"Sigurd. Sigurd Olivier. I'm from Amsterdam."

"Ach so. The man with the- simian hands? Ja?"

"Ja. Yes."

The buzzer went, and the Woodcarver opened the door. Off the passage, he entered an academic's living room with edge-to-edge books. A slightly shrunken man with a shock of silver hair stood ready to receive him. He appeared considerably older than Yatri.

"Willkommen. I am Max Biesendorf." He took the Woodcarver's proffered right hand like a scientist handling an interesting specimen. "So this- So these are the hands that should do wonderfully creative things, hmm?" he said mischievously, causing his guest to blush. "Ach, do not worry. We academics are not all... how should I say, fossilised? The sabre fights over a man's honour belong to the past. I am afraid I must disappoint you. Yatri is not here now. Let me take your coat. A cognac? Or would you prefer coffee?"

"Coffee, thank you."

While Max was busy in the kitchen, the Woodcarver examined the many books in the room. He came at last to a book that captured his interest. It stood apart on a lectern. He read the title: "Nibelungenlied - the Meandering Myth" by Dr. Jasmin von Bingham. He turned the book over and there was a photograph of Yatri on the back cover. He looked puzzled.

Max re-entered, carrying a tray. The Woodcarver motioned with the book.

"This is Yatri, isn't it?

Max put down the tray and examined the book. "Ah, the English translation. Yes, that is Yatri. When she was still yoked to the academic wagon and writing under her own name. Rising young star, she was then. At thirty-two the youngest assistant professor we had. Her Persian blood-"


"Oh she's a veritable United Nations when it comes to blood. But she is particularly fond of the Persian pint, or litre. That is why she traces, in her book there, the origins of the German - in inverted commas - legend, to its Persian origins. And thence northwards, all the way to... where is it? She's the historian. I'm the linguist."

"All the way to Scandinavia."

"Ah! You are familiar with the Nibelungenlied? How sur- What a delightful surprise."

"Not really surprising. I'm named after the hero. Not the Persian one. Nor the German one. That's Siegfried. But the Scandinavian one, King Sigurd. Just natural curiosity, I guess. I wanted to know who this guy was that I was named after, and whether I had anything in common with him."

"And do you? He was quite a- guy, as you would put it."

"No. But I did the next best thing. My first marionette, my alter ego, has all those shining qualities."

"Ah! So those hands have been creating wonderful things?"

"I have carved a whole company - family - of marionettes, and I perform on the streets of Europe. That is, when I'm not being kicked off them."

"I see. And are they... wonderfully carved?"

The Woodcarver pulled from his pocket a calling card with a photograph on it, and handed it to Max, who examined it carefully before speaking.

"So Yatri read you well. That restores some confidence. I have doubted. Yes. Doubted."

"I am not following you."

Max, the very picture of the absent-minded professor, tried to explain. "She has been under great strain this past year, being in two worlds simultaneously. To do her psychic work she has to be so open, so vulnerable. And to deal with the... how do you say, nitty-gritty? ...of the publishing business, she has to close down, become hardened."

"She's working on another book?"

"On the paranormal. Yes. The publishers say she is incomprehensible to the layman, but when they simplify her text she says it no longer means what she intended. Then she flies into a rage and calls them 'Philistines with artistic pretensions'. Well, nothing new there. Flaubert was saying that a hundred and fifty years ago. I suspect both sides have a point, but the problem is that Yatri has been suffering mentally. She has become... unstable. And because of my... ambivalence? ...she has lost her trust in me. I am no longer the anchor she had come to expect me to be."

"Where is she?"

"I do not know. I think somewhere on the shores of the Bodensee. And I pray to god not in it."


King Sigurd's Magic Mirror Marionette Theatre sat out the rest of that winter in Munich, where the Woodcarver had friends and was able to rent a room cheaply. It is tremendous fun camping in the snow, but only for a day or two. Any longer, and it becomes a white hell. So, there they sat, snug as a bug in a rug, darting into town for the odd lightning raid when money ran low, and for the rest just whittled away the time.

Spring came and it was time to set off again on their travels. The Woodcarver had had Yatri on his mind much of the time, but had been hesitant about contacting Max for fear of minding other people's business. Now, on the point of leaving Munich, he picked up the telephone on an impulse and dialed the number Max had given him.

No, she had not returned, but had called him once.

"How is she? How was she?"

"Confused," he replied.

"Is there anything... anything we can do?"

There was weariness in his voice when he answered. "I used to be ambivalent, but I'm not even that any more. In Yatri's eyes I'm in the enemy camp. No, there is nothing I can do but be patient. Time may heal."

"Is there anything I can do?"

"Possibly. But how? You would have to find her first."

"Where did she call from?"

"The Bodensee. More she did not say."

"Do you think she'll still be there?"

"It's a big place," he laughed, but not with pleasure. "But yes, my instinct says she's still there. When in trouble, she's always been drawn to water."


A minor road, winding for much of the way, hugs the shores of this large lake. Violetta did what was required of her and scoured the German and Austrian shores, once even doing a complete circumnavigation, to include the Swiss side. At each town they came to, Violetta would take a breather, so enabling the troupe to perform.

Wherever they went, the Woodcarver's eyes were seldom on the road. He left that to Violetta. His own eyes searched left and right, high and low, for one confused, and probably desperately lonely, woman. It was one of those journeys that had a dream-like quality, different scenes materialising before the Woodcarver's eyes like a slide show. And from time to time the sharp intake of breath as he thought to recognise the woman who had once cast him a line when he was drowning. Stein-am-Rhein, with its beautiful murals... there! there! that woman sitting on a terrace, was that her?... The pensive figure under the giant birch on Bregenz's breakwater... Who was that under a shawl kneeling in a pew in the Birnau Basilica?...Then there was that terrifying moment in Meersburg. They had been performing on the steps below the older of the two castles when the Woodcarver happened to glance up. There was Yatri, about to jump from the bridge spanning the gorge! He dropped everything and ran, three steps at a time, praying he would not be too late. Breathless, heart pounding, he arrived on the bridge. It was empty. He leant over, expecting to see a body draped doll-like over the rocks below, but there was nothing, no crowd gawking, all was tranquil except his mind.

Lindau. In spite of the chocolate box panorama across the harbour and the lake, to the snow-capped Alps in the distance, it was with drooping shoulders and a heavy heart that the Woodcarver started to perform. Suddenly he stiffened and his dull gaze changed to rivetted attention: a rucksack was propped up against the old stone tower on the quayside, and beside it stood a red thermos flask.

He abandoned his surprised audience and, sweeping little King Sigurd along with him, went to take a closer look. He examined the flask long and hard, not absolutely certain it was the one he had given Yatri. He looked about trying to spot the likely owner. Shaking his head as if trying to clear it, he returned to his position in front of the castle cart to continue his lacklustre performance.

The tourist ferry from Bregenz was just then docking. The gangway swung into position and people started to come ashore. A woman with her back to him - a stewardess or tourist guide - handed out what he took to be forms to the disembarking passengers. They glanced at the paper, looked confused, shrugged their shoulders, and one by one crumpled up the pages and threw them away. Some fluttered in the breeze, a few landed on the water.

The woman turned around. The Woodcarver gasped.

Hurriedly he hung the marionette from a hook on the cart and walked quickly over to her. She was dishevelled, with a wild look in her eyes. She peeled another sheet from the wad she was holding and handed it to him. He took it and glanced at it superficially.

"Your manuscript! Yatri, for god's sake, what are you doing?"

"Doing? Why, I'm publishing my book."

She turned to hand a page to someone passing by. The Woodcarver clasped both her shoulders and forced her to look at him.

"Yatri! It's me. Remember?"

She looked at him from light years away. Her vacant gaze then shifted to the castle cart and the puppets. After what seemed an eternity, she spoke, softly.

"Would you... empower me?"


A big fire burnt brightly in a clearing in the woods. In the far distance loomed blue-black mountain peaks, the lightness of their snow mantle just distinguishable in the faint starlight. The Woodcarver, wearing a full-length overcoat, placed more logs on the blaze. Beyond it sat the huddled figure of Yatri, wrapped in a blanket. He walked to Violetta, close by, pulled a remote control from his coat pocket, pointed it at the castle cart just visible through the open door, then returned to the fire. Nataraz music started to play.

During the gentle, slow, opening bars the Woodcarver stood motionless before the fire, their altar. This was not a dance the dancer dances; it was a dance the dance danced with the dancer. Imperceptably at first, a muscle twitched here, contracted there, in the Woodcarver's body. It was as if an enormous flywheel was being coaxed into motion slowly, slow as molasses in January.

Now the dance took possession of him. The coat flew off and the Woodcarver transmuted into a free-dancing, whirling dervish. He was wearing the blood red pantaloon trousers and the oriental waistcoat Yatri had given him long ago, a white fleecy shirt with wide, flared sleeves, and high boots. Yatri looked up from her introversion and it became clear the Woodcarver was dancing for the both of them. The dull glaze over her eyes made way for a spark. The dance gathered speed, became a tornado, and soared to a climax higher than Mont Blanc....

The dying embers glowed richly in the night. Violetta's side door was open a crack. Inside lay two spoons, Yatri and the Woodcarver, their faces towards the remains of the fire. The deep orange was reflected in their eyes.

Slowly the Woodcarver raised the Magic Mirror before Yatri's face.

"By royal decree, you are hereby empowered! Arise, Queen Yatri!"

She smiled back at herself.

"So it is true. I was not at all sure, back there, where I was."

"What is true?"

"However low you go, that's how high you will soar."

"But Yatri, silly, you're the one who said it."

"And you're the one who proved it."


Late, light snow was falling as they hurried along the platform of Lindau railway station. The Woodcarver was talking earnestly.

"I'm not saying sacrifice your integrity. No. But a little compromise... Vot ish a leetle compromise, hey?"

She shot him a look.

"I know... publishers! But what good is it if you are uttering the greatest truths ever, but no one can hear you? Let the little buggers water you down a bit. Sometimes, to win you have to loose a little first."

The train conductor's whistle gave a blast, the signal for a last embrace, a kiss.

"And write to me. In Amsterdam, care of Johanna. I'll be back there in the summer."

Yatri boarded the train. She reappeared behind a frosty window, which she wiped with her sleeve. As the train started moving she held up the thermos flask, smiled, and waved.


An almost endless queue of cars stretched inland from the border post, waiting to cross from Spain into Gibraltar.

"But why Gibraltar of all places!" demanded Miss Quote. "Someone of my talents belongs in the cosmopolitan heart of this world. I do protest."

"Oh my fibrillating sphincter!" spat Gall.

"My dear Miss Quote, you may have noticed that the bigger and more touristy the city we play in, the harder we get our backsides kicked. So I've opted for the smallest country in the world, or thereabouts," explained the Woodcarver.

"And we'll be able to see Africa from here," chipped in Maqina.

"Oh my god!" despaired Miss Quote. "Why don't we just head straight for Timbuktu and get done with it."

An hour later they were within sight of the border post.

"Have all the necessary forms been filled in?" demanded Mr. Smother. "In quintiplicate, mind!"

Rank and File, the two newest additions to the growing family of little people, popped up from under a drain cover and - between nose-picking - chirped obediently .

"Yes, sir," replied Rank.

"No, sir," said File.

"Three bags full, sir," they called together.

With that, they burst into their very own song, with a little help from the others.

I am Rank. I am File.
We are most servile.
We will bow, we will scrape
We will ingratiate.

Smother: My name is Smother
I am your Big Brother
Backbone of the nation
I am your salvation.

I am Rank. I am File.
We are most servile.
We will bow, we will scrape
We will ingratiate.

Gall: Listen to a man who is wise
What do I see with mine own eyes?
They're just here to fertilise
Consciousness so it can rise.

I am Rank. I am File.
We are most servile.
We will bow, we will scrape
We will ingratiate.

King: You are not just yes-men
To be pushed about like chessmen
Use your head, you have a brain
Though dig any more, it'll go down the drain.

I am Rank. I am File.
We are most servile.
We will bow, we will scrape
We will ingratiate.

All: 'Twas then we heard old Smother purr:
Smother: With nuts like these, I cannot err.
Rank & File: Yes sir, no sir
Anything you say sir.

I am Rank. I am File.
We are most servile.
We will bow, we will scrape
We will ingratiate.

It was good they had songs to sing: it helped ease the irritation caused by the long delay. People kept getting out of their cars to stretch sore limbs. A mother could be seen helping a small boy to urinate at the side of the road.

A young man's face appeared at the driver's window. He was about to say something, when his gaze strayed involuntarily to the back of Violetta where the puppets were. His eyes grew wide.

"Wow!" he exclaimed, then gathering his thoughts, he said: "Sorry to do this to you, but this is a camper, isn't it?"

The Woodcarver nodded.

"Do you have a chemical toilet? It's my dad, you see. He's old and-"

"Of course. Of course."

The Woodcarver quickly got out and followed the young man to the car ahead. Together they helped a shaky old man into Violetta.

"I'm Paco. Paco Parody," said the young man. "How do you do?"

"My name's Sigurd."

"This is really very decent of you-"

"Oh come on. It's the least I can do."

"Those are great puppets in there. You make them yourself?"

"Yes. Carved them all from wood. They're more than puppets to me. They're family."

"Were you coming to perform in Gibraltar?"

"That's right. Assuming we ever get in there. What's the hold-up?"

"Hold-up?" He was genuinely surprised. "Oh! This?" He gestured to the cars. "This is normal. You don't want to be here when they've really got it in for us. Then you can be in this queue for eight hours. But they save that mostly for mid-summer. Then the old folks, like my dad, start fainting from heat exhaustion."

"But why? That's barbaric."

"The Spanish want The Rock back, and they've wanted it for three centuries now."

"Why don't the British give it back then?"

"Because it's not theirs to give back. It's ours. It belongs to us now."

"Who's us?"

"The Gibraltarians."

"But you're British, aren't you?"

"British. And Genoese. And Portuguese. And Spanish. And Jews. And Moslems. And... a touch of Neanderthal."

Violetta's door opened and Paco stepped forward to assist his father. When he had installed him in their car, he called: "We're moving again. I'll wait for you on the other side. I owe you a drink."

Under way again, King Sigurd and Gall started singing a song entitled, simply, "The Rock".

We've been put to the test in war
We've been under fire
We've been under siege before
Yet rose up out of the mire.

Solid as The Rock, solid as The Rock
Solid as the Rock of Ages
Solid as The Rock, solid as The Rock
Wisest of all the sages.

That was as far as they got when they reached the Spanish Customs and Immigration post, where several unpleasant-looking uniformed officials descended on Violetta... giving her quite a turn, that's for sure. The Woodcarver handed over his own papers and those for the van. A customs man ordered him to open Violetta's back door. He stood back while a colleague entered and roughly rummaged through the interior, fingering the little folk with no respect at all.

"Anything of value to declare?"


"Except the puppets, hey?" the senior man smiled deceitfully. "They must be of very much value to you."

"Oh yes! Oh yes!" the Woodcarver gushed unsuspectingly. "They're my treasure, my whole life now."

"You have papers for them?"


"You bring things of value into Spain from Holland, now you take things of value out of Spain. So where are the papers?"

The Woodcarver was beginning to panic. "But I didn't buy them, you see? I made them myself, carved them."

He made carving motions with his hands. The customs official ignored this and motioned for him to pull Violetta into a bay beside the customs offices. Numb with shock, he complied.

Paco, on the Gibraltar side, stood beside his car, talking to a policeman dressed like an old style English bobby with helmet. Paco was gesticulating angrily, pointing from time to time towards the Woodcarver.

Customs men entered Violetta to emerge with one puppet in each hand, then passed through a doorway in a high brick wall. Beside himself with distress, the Woodcarver moved about in a bumbling fashion, following the men for a few paces, then returning to Violetta, all the while moving his lips soundlessly as the nest was plundered bare.

Through the doorway he saw the customs men walk some way into a vast fenced compound till they got to an open shed on one side. They entered with the puppets, and emerged empty-handed. Lining the fence were all manner of confiscated items, including cars. The men left the compound, swinging the door closed behind them. There was a resounding click of the latch as the spring-lock shot into place. The Woodcarver stood like a zombie till the senior customs man handed him some papers.

"W h a t - i s - g o i n g - t o - h a p p e n ?" stammered the Woodcarver.

The man pulled out a large cigarette lighter, flicked it, then turned the flame full on. Through the heat the Woodcarver could see a hazy leer on his face. He said nothing, but conveyed much. Paco was watching. His icy calm hid a volcano close to erupting.

The bobby spoke. "I would wish them in hell, but look at their faces. They are there already."

The Woodcarver was deeply wounded and confused. He sat behind the wheel, but for the life of him did not know what to do next. One of the brutes appeared at the driver's window, gesticulating and shouting. The Woodcarver turned the ignition and Violetta moved slowly towards the bobby, who saluted and gave a little bow by way of apologizing for what had happened. He took the Woodcarver's passport, disappeared, returned almost immediately to hand it back, and muttered some consoling words. As Violetta moved off, the first tears began to roll down the Woodcarver's cheeks. In his head played the song "Cherish the Memory".

Cherish the memory
of the magic caravan.
Cherish the memory
As long as you can.

Cherish the memory
Wherever you may be
Cherish the memory
Of times when we were free.

Paco entered the model shop from the street, supporting his father by the arm. Behind them came Paco's mother and the Woodcarver, followed by Paco's younger brother Jerry. All about were model trains and model cars, and from the ceiling hung model aeroplanes, kites, and model helicopters. The Woodcarver saw them without seeing them. He was traumatised.

At the end of the shop were stairs, which they climbed to the living space above. Once settled, Paco's mother served tea and biscuits.

"...But what do they achieve by punishing visitors to Gibraltar?" the Woodcarver was asking. "After all, what did the tourists do to them?"

"They keep our economy alive," said Paco's father. "By discouraging our visitors, they hope to throttle us. If the economy fails, we become easy pickings. One thing is certain in the very long history of The Rock, and that is that people, nations, will continue to fight for possession of this, one of the world's greatest natural fortresses. Since Neanderthal Man found refuge in the caves here 120 thousand years ago, people have been fighting over this six-kilometre peninsula."

"With one hundred and fourty caves, and tunnels criss-crossing The Rock, man, you can hide an army in here," said Jerry proudly.

"So what is the solution?" asked the Woodcarver.

"We Gibraltarians want to govern ourselves," said Paco.

"A city state," volunteered the Woodcarver.

"A what?"

"Plato. Plato's 'Republic'. You read him, Paco. I tell you, read anything, instead of this playing with children's toys."

"Dad, flying model helicopters is a serious skill. Besides, the shop supports us."

"So? Run the shop and read Plato."

"Yes dad," answered Paco tenderly.

"But not now." The old man's body might be failing, not his mind. "First we have to find a way of helping our friend here. He must be re-united with his... family." He turned to face his guest. "What I saw in your van there was a real treasure. Now going the official route would take six months, and there's no guarantee it will work. Besides, in the meantime those misguided souls down there won't be taking the greatest care of your puppets." The Woodcarver winced. "My friend, we are going to do everything we can to help you."

"I can't expect you to put yourselves out-"

"You do not understand. Getting one over on those... those... people at the border will be all wool and a yard wide."

"Which is old English for... great," Paco deciphered.

"But what can we do," asked the Woodcarver.

There was dead silence. Everyone was deep in thought. At last the Woodcarver spoke. Or was it Yin-Yin speaking, or King Sigurd?

"We must wait for the solution to drop out of the sky." Everyone turned to stare at him. "The way it works for me is this: I feed all the information I have about a certain problem into my computer," he indicated his brain by tapping his temple, "and then I wait. The less I do then, the quicker the solution comes. And it really does just fall out of the sky, usually within twenty-four hours."

"We Catholics - and we're mostly Catholics on Gibraltar - call that praying, and having your prayers answered," said Paco's mother.

"In that case, let's go and do nothing!" suggested Paco. "Or more accurately, you do nothing. I have to go out to Europa Point with the trailer to service the boys. It's a regular club meeting today." He addressed the Woodcarver. "If you'd care to come along-"

"What club meeting?"

"Model aircraft."

Some minutes later they emerged from the shop, and stepped into the narrow street. As they walked past Violetta, Paco clapped the side mirror on the street side closed.

"Always do that in Gibraltar," he said. "If you want any mirrors left."

"How peculiar. Why?"

"Our streets are so narrow, for the most part, that's the only way two cars can pass." At that moment he pulled the Woodcarver to one side. A car passed Violetta with millimetres to spare. "Only just in time. Now, give me a hand hooking up the trailer."

They drove along Europa Road, towards the point of the peninsula. Once at the cricket field that doubled as runway, Paco lifted the lid of the trailer to reveal numerous shelves and drawers with a variety of spare parts for model aircraft. A few hobbyists sidled over and awaited their turn to be served. The Woodcarver settled himself on a bench beside the cricket clubhouse and looked out at the array of aircraft, some with engines running.

One aircraft revved up while a helper held onto its tail. The "pilot" had the radio controls in both hands.

"Okaaaay!" he bellowed.

The helper let go and the craft raced across the ground, then lifted smoothly and took to the air.

"Okay, bring her down Jim!" someone yelled.

The man called Jim was concentrating intensely as he worked the joysticks of his radio controls. Slowly a model helicopter descended. Paco dropped onto the bench beside the Woodcarver.

"Neat, hey?"

"Absolutely amazing," replied the Woodcarver.

"My dad calls them toys, but I tell you, I see something else. This is man's ingenuity at its best. And do you know what kind of power there is in that beast?"

"Impress me."

Paco assumed a mock serious attitude. "I'd tell you a story if I didn't think you'd run off and spill it to the Spanish customs."

"Come on, out with it."

"Well Jim here uses that helicopter of his to ferry cigarettes from Gibraltar to Spain-"


"Shhhht! Jim's in import/export. Works night shifts. He says doing it this way certainly beats pounding your kidneys to pulp in a high-powered speedboat like the other guys in his line of business."

"But can he really make money that way? I mean, what sort of payload can that helicopter carry?"

"Twenty kilos. When you consider the weight of cigarettes, it's almost as good as printing your own money. But she's a baby. Take a look at this..."

They went over to the trailer, where Paco opened a large drawer at the bottom to reveal a gleaming monster of a model helicopter.

"Wow wow wow wow!"

"Thirty kilos. That's what she can lift. Now that's impressive."

A faraway look entered the Woodcarver's eyes.

"Hello? You with us? I said that's impressive, hey?"

The faraway look was giving way to a smile. "Paco, I do believe that the answer - part of the answer - to my problem has just fallen out of the sky."

They looked at one another for a long moment, saying nothing. Then Paco borrowed a line from Pygmalion.

"I think he's got it!"

"The 'plane in Spain falls mainly like the rain..." sang the Woodcarver.

"By Jove! I really think he's got it." Then he became serious again. "Okay, so we can airlift the puppets out. But how do we get someone inside that compound to hook them up?"

The Woodcarver settled back on the bench again and looked to the heavens.

"It's time for some more blue sky research."

It was dusk when they drove back to town via the dramatic eastern side of The Rock, through the Dudley Ward tunnel, past Sandy Bay and Catalan Bay. Suddenly, on a deserted stretch of the coastal road, Paco braked hard.

"What!" he demanded.

The Woodcarver gave an apologetic shrug, which only fired up his companion more. To a bystander it took on the appearance of a lovers' quarrel with its oddly ridiculous gestures. Running out of words, Paco resorted to punishing a long-suffering gearbox by grating it mercilessly. Somewhere in that box he found a gear willing to engage and the car humped and jumped into motion. By the time they got to the sheer north face of The Rock, it was dark and the white cliff glowed with a ghostly incandescence under the glare of floodlights.

Having parked the car, the two men now stood at the base, staring up at the awesome sight. The other-worldly light lent something maniacal to their faces.


The whole family sat about in the living room. The Woodcarver lifted his parachute onto a bathroom scale, balancing it with the light touch of just one finger, and peered at the dial.

"Eight kilos. That's nothing," he announced.

"And the puppets?" asked Paco.

"Not even that, I'm sure. But even if I'm hopelessly wrong, I swear it's not more than ten, twelve. And that means we're well within the limit."

"And the net? Don't forget the net. It's got to be strong," said Jerry.

"Not even a kilo," answered Paco.

"So? We're laughing," said the Woodcarver.

"Yeah. Just look at us. Laughing," said Paco, deadly serious.

"Paco, be reasonable. How else am I, or anyone, going to get into that compound?"

"But are you even going to reach it?"

"The Rock's 426 metres high-"

"That's O'Hara's Battery. That's not where you'll be launching from."

"Okay, okay. Say 400 metres. Now from the North Face to the customs post is 1800 metres, call it a nice round 1729-"

"Round? You call that round?"

"Well, let's just call it a lucky number."

Paco rolled his eyes, then said: "That is as the crow flies. But you said yourself, wind speed, wind direction, even the goddamn temperature-"

"Paco! Your language!"

"Sorry dad."

"To make it, as the crow flies, I need a parachute with a descent ratio of one in four-and-a-half. And I've got one that descends at a rate of one in seven. That leaves a fair margin for error."

"And all this at night! Have you ever jumped at night?"

"Twice." A slight twinge of conscience moved him to add: "Some time ago, true, but once you can ride a bicycle and all that... I reckon I'll be able to handle it."

"The noise of the helicopter, what you going to do about that?" asked Jerry.

Paco answered, his voice still betraying resistance. "There's a commercial flight I know of that comes in at four in the morning. It'll be sufficient to drown out the noise we make."

The Woodcarver did a round of the room, looking from face to face, all of them registering tension.

"I cannot see any other solution. So we go with it. Okay?"

The next day Jerry and the Woodcarver went up The Rock by cable car and walked the kilometre or so to the north end. They examined the terrain directly above the cliff, looking for a suitable place to launch from. In the distance they could clearly see the border post with the adjacent customs compound. The Woodcarver went cold as he thought of the little folk holed up in that miserable shed.

"I'm coming," he promised under his breath. "Just hang in there, my little ones."


The main canopy of the parachute was draped all over the living room. At one end Paco's mother sat behind her sewing machine, concentrating on the task in hand.

"We have to get this parachute to behave like a paraglider," the Woodcarver was explaining to Paco and Jerry. "Which means it's got to be inflated when I launch myself. That's why your mom is sewing those two inverted cups to the end cells. This is where you insert those carbon fibre rods you use for kites. That way we can help the canopy to inflate."

"If we've got a breeze on the night," said Jerry.

"Air moving across land towards the sea - which it does at night - will rise when it comes to an obstacle, in this case a gigantic lump of rock. There should be a nice little current flowing over the ridge," predicted the Woodcarver.

The following day they went out to Europa point again. The Woodcarver stood on the cricket field wearing his parachute harness with the inflated main canopy streaming behind him. Paco and Jerry held carbon fibre rods about two metres long, inserted into the cups. The Woodcarver started to run forward, lumbering against the drag of the inflated canopy, and the rods slid smoothly out of the cups. After a few metres he pulled up, and the canopy sagged to the ground.

"Looks okay, huh?" pronounced Paco.

"Looks good."

"Okay. On to step two. Practise hooking up the net to the helicopter. And believe me, Jim is the best man for this job."

"Twice European Champion!" said Jerry.

"What he can do with a helicopter, you couldn't do with a bicycle on a chandelier!" added Paco.

"As long as he doesn't forget it's my family he'll be lifting."

Jim sidled up to them. "They'll be safe as a crate of contraband," he smiled.

Paco's super helicopter hovered several metres above the ground. Beneath it stood the Woodcarver, looking up. A cable with a carabiner attached unwound from a winch in the helicopter. On the ground lay a net containing the packed parachute and a bag filled with stones. When the cable was close to the ground, the Woodcarver hooked the net to the carabiner and stepped back.

Jim's concentration was intense as he worked the joysticks. The helicopter took up the slack in the cable, then the engine noise increased as she began to rise, lifting the payload. Paco gave the thumbs up with both hands.

Driving home that night, they stopped on Devil's Tower Road to stare up at the sheer white monolith. As his gaze moved slowly up, a shiver ran through Paco's body. He turned to face the Woodcarver.

"We are completely out of our minds. You know that, don't you?"

A day later Paco stood with his parents on the Gibraltar side of the border post, looking in the direction of the Spanish customs. The latched door in the compound wall opened and an official emerged. Paco turned round to face his parents.

"That's the door. Don't stare, don't stare! We don't want to be conspicuous."

"And that is where you want me to have my heart attack?" asked his father.

"No. Twenty metres this side of that door. And mom, you'll fuss over him something terrible. Remember, your screams have to be audible inside that compound."

"Who knows, at this rate I might be having a real heart attack," said his father drily.


The Woodcarver stood in the centre of the living room. He was dressed in dark blue denims, a thick, dark jacket, and dark socks. He examined the sole of the trainer he was about to put on. It, too, was dark.

"Good. I don't want to stand out against the night sky."

On the couch lay his discarded, lighter-coloured clothes. He reached into a pocket and pulled out a photograph. Jerry noticed.

"Can I see?" he asked.

"Jerry! You mind your own business," reprimanded his father.

"It's all right, Mr. Parody. It's no state secret," said the Woodcarver.

Jerry came round to look at the photograph.

"Wah wah wah!"

Quickly the others gathered around, unable to resist. It was the picture of Yatri which the Woodcarver had used as a model for the marionette Yin-Yin.

"Your... girlfriend?" asked Jerry.

"Someone very special in my life," he answered slowly. "She pulled me out of the abyss once. It feels good to have her with me on this jump."

He placed the photograph carefully in an inside pocket of his dark jacket.

"Right," began Paco awkwardly. "Shall we go over a couple of things? Now, I'd love you to stay on after the rescue, but I think it would be too risky. You've got to get across that border with your camper before they realise the puppets are gone. And not just that. I'd like you to be on the other side of the Pyrannees in record time. Jim will land the puppets here in Gibraltar. With such a fragile cargo he does not want to land them in La Linea. After that they'll be taken by one of his... ah... business associates, by boat, to a contact on the coast beyond La Linea. From that point on they're officially oranges being exported to northern Europe. Clear so far?"


"You'll go via Zaragoza towards Pau on the French side, and here," he handed a piece of paper to the Woodcarver, pointing, "is the exact spot where you'll meet the orange truck. I've written down the time and date as well. But we'll all be in touch by phone to sort out possible hitches, though I don't expect any. Jim is a top... businessman." He looked about the room. "Anyone got any questions? No? Then we'd better get moving. It's going to be a long night."

As he gathered his kit, there played inside the Woodcarver's head the song "The Rock" once started by King Sigurd and Gall.

We've been put to the test in war
We've been under fire
We've been under siege before
Yet rose up out of the mire.

Solid as The Rock, solid as The Rock
Solid as the Rock of Ages
Solid as The Rock, solid as The Rock
Wisest of all the sages.

Local Customs we observe
And instead of struggling
Armed with speed and lots of nerve
Turn our hand to smuggling.

Solid as The Rock, solid as The Rock
Solid as the Rock of Ages
Solid as The Rock, solid as The Rock
Wisest of all the sages.

Seized by ghouls at the customs gate
All the king's men are forced to part
Fiends so vile and full of hate
Leave me with a broken heart.

Solid as The Rock, solid as The Rock
Solid as the Rock of Ages
Solid as The Rock, solid as The Rock
Wisest of all the sages.

To be sure they're tied to a stake
And standing on a pyre
I must leap for the little folks' sake
Else they die by fire.

Solid as The Rock, solid as The Rock
Solid as the Rock of Ages
Solid as The Rock, solid as The Rock
Wisest of all the sages.

It's do or die, fail or fly
Leap from the Rock of Gibraltar
I must soar high, or they will die
Now I cannot falter.

Solid as The Rock, solid as The Rock
Solid as the Rock of Ages
Solid as The Rock, solid as The Rock
Wisest of all the sages.

In the small hours of the morning Paco, Jerry and the Woodcarver stood in a circle at the launch site on top of The Rock. Paco was speaking into his mobile 'phone.

"...Right. Good. What? It's fine. A light breeze. We'll be launching then. Bye." He turned to the Woodcarver. "The commercial flight's on schedule. Landing in twenty minutes. Ready?"

The Woodcarver breathed deeply. "Ready."

He slung the rig onto his back, the canopy overflowing from the container. While he buckled the harness round his thighs and chest, the other two carefully pulled the canopy from the container and spread out behind him.

"Try not to drag it over the ground. I don't want it tearing," he cautioned.

The brothers inserted their carbon fibre rods into the cups on the outer cells of the canopy, which was filling nicely in the breeze. The Woodcarver's face was drawn, tense. He rolled his eyes, then peered over his shoulder to see that everything was in order. The canopy billowed. He swallowed hard. This was where push came to shove.

"Are you ready!" he shouted.

"Ready!" called the brothers in chorus.

Screaming courage into himself, the Woodcarver's voice boomed: "Go!!!"


Yatri's den in Heidelberg had the same flavour as the attic apartment in Amsterdam once had. She sat typing on a laptop. In front of her, on a low coffee table covered by an oriental rug, stood a crystal ball. She was absorbed in her work.

Suddenly she sat bolt upright, stricken with fear, the way a rabbit reacts when one of her young is killed in a submerged submarine thousands of kilometres away.


The Woodcarver's feet moved over the uneven surface of the short decline to the cliff edge. Then the toe of one trainer caught on a protruding rock...


Yatri turned to her crystal ball, heart pounding, searching for clarity. Feet. She saw feet. Whose feet? Trainers. Who wore trainers? Who in heaven's name of the few people close to her wore trainers? What else? she demanded of her crystal. Flying, she was getting images of flying. But what did flying signify? Death? A spirit floating off? No! No! She refused to accept that. When she thought the anguish could not become greater, she suddenly gasped for air and knew she was dying... Falling...Falling...


The Woodcarver stumbled. He saw the cliff edge two metres ahead. Somehow he had to clear it. Legs together, he kicked with all his might in a kind of pig-jump and sailed over the precipice, followed by the canopy.


When she regained consciousness it was through a sea of soap bubbles, dancing lightly in the air. Drifting towards her through the parting bubbles was the face of her dear, dear friend, the Woodcarver. He was smiling and reassuring her that all was well. And she knew that it was just so.


His body jerked in the harness, followed by the crack as the cells inflated fully and the canopy took his weight.

Paco was trembling so much he almost dropped his mobile 'phone. "J- Jim? It's- It's- It's okay. He's flying. Thank god!"

The canopy was now gliding smoothly over Gibraltar, making its way diagonally across the airport's runway. The Woodcarver gulped air, recovering from the near disaster. He looked down and saw the customs post growing bigger as he approached. The perimeter fence was faintly lit, but the compound itself was in semi darkness. He pumped the toggles to bring the slider down where it belonged, then used the toggles to steer with.

Jim's large van was parked on a vacant lot in a deserted industrial area close to the runway. Inside, his assistant sat on the floor holding the big model helicopter above his head. The rotors were not engaged, but the motor was running. Jim, night-vision goggles resting on his forehead, held the radio controls and revved the engine. Certain that she was well warmed up, he eased back the throttle and opened the back door of the van. He stepped out, followed by his assistant, who placed the craft on the ground.

Jim pulled the goggles over his eyes, adjusted them, then looked out towards the customs compound some way off. His assistant pulled a mobile 'phone from his pocket and nodded to Jim. Slowly the blades started to rotate, gradually picking up speed.


The Woodcarver muttered to himself: "Too damned high." Pulling first on one toggle, then the other, he zigzagged to delay his approach. He would be coming in from the east, so he would have to clear the high brick wall, but not by much, or he would overshoot the compound. It was always going to be a close call and he hoped he was judging it just right.

In the last few metres the ground always comes rushing up at you. In his case, it was that wall, that bloody wall. He was too low, and there was nothing he could do about it. He drew his knees up tight against his chest and prayed.

He could have sworn his sneakers disturbed the dust on the parapet. But he was over, and that's all that mattered. He jerked down both toggles simultaneously to activate the brakes. The canopy stalled and he floated gently the last two metres to the earth.

His feet had no sooner touched ground than he whipped round and pulled in the lines to collapse the canopy, which he quickly gathered in his arms. He unbuckled the harness, swung it off his back, and stuffed the material back in the container. He knew where the shed was and headed for it.

Once inside, he peered into the darkness, then pulled a small flashlight from a pocket and began to search the shelves. Something reflected the light back. It was a pair of eyes. He went closer, and an enormous feeling of relief poured over him when he saw it was none other than His Royal Highness, King Sigurd.

"Thank the heavens! You're safe, you're safe." The beam of light danced about the shed, landing on this puppet, then that. "Oh my beautiful little ones...."

He pulled a mobile 'phone from a pocket and thumbed the buttons. Jim's assistant answered in an instant. He listened, then, because Jim could not take his eyes off the helicopter in the distance, he squeezed his shoulder as a signal.

The Woodcarver spread the net on the ground and placed the parachute in the centre. Next, he spread a sheet and laid the puppets on it one by one, as quickly as he could without being rough, and folded it closed. This bundle he placed on top of the parachute, then brought together the four corners of the net, hooking them into a carabiner.

"Now don't be scared," he whispered at the bundle. "You're going to be lifted into the air and taken to safety. We'll see one another in a few days. Just remember, you're in safe hands from here on in."

He cocked an ear. There it was: the commercial jet was just landing. As it raced down the runway, the sound of the reverse thrust became a deafening roar. The Woodcarver looked up, anxious to catch sight of the helicopter. He waited... There it was, but too far north. He spoke into his 'phone, the connection still being there, and gave directions to Jim's assistant, who in turn passed them on to Jim by a pre-arranged code.

While it hovered several metres above the compound, the winch cable came snaking down. The Woodcarver hooked the net to it, spoke into his 'phone, and slowly the slack was taken up. When it was nearly taut he spoke again into the 'phone, held his breath, then saw the net starting to rise from the ground.

"Safe journey, my little ones," he mouthed.

The commercial jet was just then taxying up to the terminal, the whine of its engines beginning to die down.


At that unearthly hour there were only a couple of cars in line, waiting to cross the border. Customs and immigration officials were going about their business desultorily. An elderly couple were walking towards the Spanish side. Suddenly the man's knees gave way under him and he sank to the ground, clutching his chest. The woman started screaming hysterically. Heads turned and all eyes were focussed on them. The Spanish officials stood staring for a few seconds while it all sank in. From the Gibraltar side, though, a bobby was quick off the mark and ran to give assistance. Behind the Spanish officials the door in the compound wall opened and the Woodcarver emerged. He started running to the old man, whom he reached as the bobby bent to examine him. A moment later a second bobby arrived with a rolled up stretcher. He laid this out on the ground, and the Woodcarver helped them to transfer the stricken man onto it. He was quick to take up position at one end of the stretcher and, with one of the bobbies, carried the patient to the first-aid post on the Gibraltar side. The old woman fussed over him something terrible.


It was well into spring and still the Pyrannees were under a thick mantle of snow. The few buildings of a hamlet near the top of the pass could just be distinguished against their white backdrop. A hundred metres beyond them the red Violetta, drawn over on the verge of the road, stood out like a sore thumb.

The Woodcarver glanced at the side mirror for the so-manyeth time. Reflected in it was nothing but an empty landscape. He stuck his hand out the window and clapped the mirror flush with the side of the vehicle, then clapped it open again. He thought of Gibraltar's narrow streets, and gave a wry smile...

Sitting there waiting in that rarified atmosphere, a song he had once heard Case singing, started playing in his head. Case the Wise Hermit, seldom seen, seldom heard, possessed the ability to bring them up short with the simple wisdom he displayed from time to time. The song was more a chant, a prayer, entitled "Optique".

I stand on the mountain
And I do see.
Dhammam sharanam gachchami.
I go to the feet of the ultimate truth.

A large truck climbed the last hundred metres to the top of the pass, and rolled over to the other side. It slowed and pulled up in front of Violetta. A man jumped down from the cab and waved at the Woodcarver, who was also disembarking. He undid the corner of the canvas covering the tail end of his truck, climbed aboard, then emerged to pass the net with the parachute and puppets to the waiting Woodcarver. With a wave he was gone.

Half an hour later the little family had all taken up their customary positions, as of old. A most contented Woodcarver was brewing tea on the spirit stove.

"...And I wasn't scared at all-" Maqina was saying.

"Humpf!" came Miss Quote's sceptical interjection.

"From the world's champion arm wrestler, I would have expected nothing less," responded the Woodcarver.

"Wanna have a go now?"

"Eh, not now."

"You're scared."


"No arm wrestling without written permission from the Minister of Sport. In quintiplicate! And that's final!" bellowed Mr. Smother.

"Yes sir, no sir-" began Rank and File in unison.

"I wanna be evil... I wanna be bad," crooned Miss Quote huskily, emboldened by her regained freedom.

"Bitch." The word slipped from Yin-Yin's mouth.

"Witch!" came the retort.

"Now now, girls..." cautioned King Sigurd.

Jean-Philippe de Chantepie, the froggie with no leggies at all, had a deadline to meet and was interviewing all and sundry for his column.

"In your own words, sil vous plait, how would you describe the activities of King Sigurd's Magic Mirror Marionette Theatre?" he asked Case.

Maqina got in first. "We aim to advance the cause of the African Renaissance-"

"I'm addressing the Wise Hermit, Maqina," said Jean-Philippe a little impatiently.

"His Majesty here," Case paused dramatically, "is the new Pied Piper - with a difference."

"That being?"

"Why," broke in Yin-Yin, "we will not lead little children to their deaths. Quite the opposite. We will resurrect the child in people."

"Yeah!" everyone cheered.

"And for how long am I to do this thankless task?" winged Victimus Ultimus. "Must I work my fingers to the bone... Sacrifice my youth? How long, pray?"

"Shall we say, till Mr. Smother here has learnt to dance..." said the king with an impish twinkle in his eye.

"That long!" protested Maqina.

"...And Victimus Ultimus has found his inner king-"

"Okay, so now we know how long eternity is," commented Gall drily.

The Woodcarver looked up from his Rooibos brew and announced: "We will celebrate your homecoming now with a double Rooibos all round. Fortify yourselves, my hearties, for we must go..."

"On on on on on, once more unto the breach!" they chorussed.

Not long after, Violetta pulled onto the road and made her way down the pass into France.


Weary from the long journey, the faithful red workhorse - cow, really - stood dozing outside Johanna's house in Amsterdam. Careful not to disturb her, the Woodcarver and Johanna sat quietly inside, drinking tea. Johanna remembered something, picked up a parcel and handed it to the Woodcarver.

"Oh, this came for you. From Heidelberg," she said.

He unwrapped the parcel to reveal a book. The title read: "You are the Miracle". Below that was a sub-head: "The paranormal is normal" by Dr. Yatri von Bingham. He shook his head slowly, in admiration, then turned to look deep into the Magic Mirror... There he saw, clear as day, Yatri in a bookstore in Heidelberg, sitting at a table, signing copies of her new book for customers standing in a long queue. And there, a little to one side of her table, stood a thermos flask, a red thermos flask with a steaming cup of coffee next to it. Also on the table was her crystal ball. She leant forward now and peered into it with rapt attention. What she saw was a panoramic view of the famous Amsterdam square, Leidseplein. And there was more....


The intoxicating, rich, sweet perfume of trees in blossom wafted sensually across that square. Spring was in the air! Leidseplein was packed with tourists watching enthralled as the unicyclist-cum-juggler hurled his firesticks into the air. He caught them adroitly, then appeared to loose his balance, and fell around the neck of the prettiest girl in the front line. She blushed and squealed her delight.

Then came the dramatic roll of drums. A pair of well-worn boots - with red shoelaces - were planted firmly on the ground, centre stage. The Woodcarver's cape was drawn closed. His head was down and all the audience could see was the top of his top hat. Slowly, as the roll of drums grew louder, he raised his head to reveal his eyes, confident eyes. There came the loud crashing of cymbals, at which the cape flew open to reveal King Sigurd.

He was suspended from the Woodcarver's neck, at the height of his chest, by a specially knotted cord. With polished skill the Woodcarver pulled a pin, and as the cord unwound His Majesty dropped neatly to the ground. In the same action, the Woodcarver's practiced hands started to work the controls. The little king danced and waved, while scouring the crowd for another pretty face. He was not going to be outdone by some or other juggler. He spotted just the one to be part of his ploy: she had a pale, milk-white neck ripe for a crowd-pleasing blush. In an instant he had leapt from the ground to land in her arms, and with his embrace he leapt right into the hearts of his admirers.

The song then playing on the sound system was the old favourite, "Walkabout in Paradise".

On Leidseplein we listened well
The juggler he did say
Paradise my friend you'll find
At a place called Bingil Bay.

Walkabout in Paradise
Forbidden fruit yum-yum...
A serpent hissed: "With mine own eyes
I don't want to see bum bum."

Barren souls they did ensure
We had not a ghost of a chance
Invoked the law which cruelly forbade
The dancer dance his dance.

Waitawhile Bay please wait a while hey
We are on our way
Paradise lost, Paradise gained
This time here to stay.

No sooner found than lost again
Paradise went astray
The gods they huffed, the gods they puffed
And blew it clean away.

Another shitty day in Paradise
Slogans did proclaim
Was our quest for Shangi-La
Doomed to be in vain?

Said the king who is very wise:
"When will we realise
All you have to do is open your eyes
To see that we are in Paradise."

At these last words, the Woodcarver turned his head to look up at the window of his old newsroom and caught sight of Rick, looking for all the world like the forlorn Sigurd of yesteryear. He stared down, vacantly, into the square. An older man, the white-haired editor, came up behind Rick, put an arm around his shoulder, said something, and pulled him gently along with him... out of view.

The Woodcarver and King Sigurd bowed to the applause. Coins came flying into the "centabakje", reward for the bold and the brave. It was a far cry indeed from their last appearance here.

The Woodcarver reached over for a stand behind the castle cart, brought it forward and turned the frame hanging from it so the public could read the words to the chorus of their next song, "Journey to Nowhere". The regal duo sang the first verse, whereupon the crowd took up the refrain.

Where are we going?
How much the fare?
Give a call driver
When we get there.
The goal is the going
So don't have a care
We're all on a journey
Going nowhere.

We are moving
On a journey to nowhere